Back to school thoughts straight from students

Students share their thoughts and experiences with NewsChannel 7 ahead of school and throughout the year
NewsChannel 7 took on a special project, gathering students from all over central Wisconsin...
NewsChannel 7 took on a special project, gathering students from all over central Wisconsin from various grades to hear what their thoughts and experiences were and are as school begins and continues over the next year. Aug. 31, 2020 was the first day of coverage looking at what students’ experiences were over the last five months, what they are thinking about ahead of the start of school, and what they are doing to get through all of the changes.(WSAW Emily Davies)
Published: Aug. 31, 2020 at 9:25 PM CDT
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(WSAW) - There are a lot of people thinking about what is in the best interests of students this year as the coronavirus pandemic causes safety protocols to change the way schools function, but what do students think?

NewsChannel 7 took on a special project, gathering students from all over central Wisconsin from various grades to hear what their thoughts and experiences were and are as school begins and continues over the next year. Aug. 31, 2020 was the first day of coverage looking at what students’ experiences were over the last five months, what they are thinking about ahead of the start of school, and what they are doing to get through all of the changes. While the students are from different grade levels and each school district is handling the year a little differently, they had a lot of shared responses.

The students who participated are:

  • Charleze Valliere, a senior at Merrill High School
  • Lexie Durkee, a senior at Stevens Point Area High School
  • Oliver Nazari-Witt, a junior at D.C. Everest Senior High School
  • Julia Engebretson, a sophomore at Wausau West High School
  • Cadence Ryman, a freshman at Merrill High School
  • Connor Skarsten, an 8th-grade student at P.J. Jacobs Junior High
  • Kayla Skarsten, a 6th-grade student at Washington Elementary School in Stevens Point

Looking back

Students reflected on their experiences at the end of the school year and summer. They said this year has not seemed real as they were ripped from their school settings and thrown into remote learning, not allowed to see friends, and largely staying home, not to mention witnessing other major world events unfold in a matter of months.

They said, of course, the pandemic has impacted them in the most dramatic ways, but they said the Black Lives Matter protests throughout the summer have taken the civil rights movements they have read about in textbooks out on the streets for them to see.

Durkee said her grandfather died during the summer, making funeral arraignments extremely challenging. Nazari-Witt said he works at a nursing home and because some of his friends had not been very careful about their interactions with others, he had not seen them in months. He explained he has to be careful so as not to bring the virus into the vulnerable patients at the facility.

Durkee works as a gymnastics coach at the Stevens Point YMCA. She said because they have to get hands-on with students, wearing a mask is not enough protection, so the classes were canceled. She said it is tough to not see her friends or her students.

Students also reflected on what their school experience was like. Connor Skarsten said he had a hard time focusing, easily being distracted by other things at home. He did not like how school functioned or that he could not see his friends.

Engebretson, Nazari-Witt, and Durkee mentioned how the amount of school work they got in the spring only took them about two hours to complete. They did not know what to do with the rest of their day, as they were used to having the whole day dedicated to school and extracurricular activities. Engebretson said, while she completed her homework, she was not very motivated by the end of the year because work was not graded.

Looking ahead

Students had a lot of questions about how this year would impact their education, their learning, their future prospects, their relationships, and their mental and physical health. They were concerned, knowing that wearing a mask all day was likely not going to be comfortable, but at the same time concerned that people were not going to wear them to protect others. They were saddened about sports practices and seasons being rescheduled, with no real certainty that they would even return. They were excited to be able to see friends when school opens but discouraged that some school schedules meant there were certain friends they may never see at school again.

They also said they appreciate the teachers and district leaders, understanding the tough positions they are in. While they may not agree or like every decision or outcome, they said they respect their decisions and are grateful they have their interests in mind. They asked parents to have patience with them as they get frustrated with the challenges throughout the year.

Students ahead of their first day of school share their thoughts and concerns going into this unusual year.

Getting through the challenges

The students, like nearly everyone, have faced challenges they never anticipated. While the situation is not ideal, they have all found ways to cope and find joy in what is important to them. Some, like Connor Skarsten and Nazari-Witt find other opportunities to hang out with friends virtually through video games, or distanced through painting and hiding rocks around their community for others to find, like Durkee. They worked out. They danced. They fostered dogs. They worked.

They appreciate their time with family, with Engebretson and Valliere mentioning they often could not see friends because they wanted to be able to see family safely.

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