How Students Are Responding to COVID-19

students stacking their hands together to represent teamwork and student activism -image by magoosh

In addition to causing a massive, worldwide public health crisis, COVID-19 has uniquely impacted high school students. With the move to remote learning and the uncertainty around college admissions, it’s hard to find a time when student stress levels have been higher. What’s more, students from marginalized backgrounds are being disproportionately impacted by this crisis. Here’s a look at some of these problems and how students all across the country have been demanding solutions.

Overcoming Technological and Language Barriers

One of the biggest issues facing students across the country is the lack of access to technology to continue schooling. Immigrant families in particular also lack access to important information in their native language. Members of the San Diego-based organization Youth Will created a COVID-19 Action Team and have been hosting virtual hangouts for youth in the area to discuss these issues as well as others related to the crisis.

Through these hangouts, youth have determined the following demands to advocate for at the county, city, and school board levels:

  • provide technological devices, such as laptops and wifi hotspots, to all students who need it
  • provide translation services to families that don’t speak English as their first language
  • improve their outreach by having a proactive, direct, and consistent line to students and families and actively engaging with their concerns as the crisis evolves
  • expand access to mental health resources, including counselors and mentors

The COVID-19 Action Team has also created the following list of resources, which include opportunities to get free technology, essential job openings, and other resources.

“While the health impacts of COVID-19 are disproportionately impacting our elders, the derivative effects of the crisis are hitting youth very hard and in ways that remain unseen by many adults. That is why it is critical we support youth in their efforts to vocalize their needs and identify the best way to meet them. Not only will we be ensuring our young people do not slip through the cracks created by COVID-19, but we will also be providing them the invaluable opportunity to establish a sense of community and purpose during this time of social distancing.” – Sean, Youth Will Executive Director

Demanding Pass/Fail Grading

Given the reality that students do not have equal access to online learning, several students across the country have been pushing their school districts to move to a pass/fail grading system. Milly from Rhode Island led her group, Providence Student Union, to circulate a petition demanding that the Rhode Island Department of Education allow all high schools in the state the option to move to pass/fail. Zoe, a prominent student activist in her Maryland county, created a similar petition targetted at her school district.

“I’m very privileged in that I live in a home where I have my own computer and internet access. But having traveled across the county and visited every school, I know that many many students do not have the same access. Also, now that libraries and other third places are closed, students that have home lives that may not be conducive to learning have nowhere else to go. To maintain the normal procedure is to ignore these circumstances and to ignore the students who are falling victim to factors out of their control. A pass/fail means students can pass the class without having a permanent stain on their records.” – Zoe

Fighting for Test-Optional

Student Voice, a national organization that is entirely student-led, has launched the #TestOptionalNOW movement to pressure colleges and universities to drop the standardized test requirement. They argue that SAT/ACT cancellations and delays and the resulting logistical challenges will primarily impact low-income, minority, and other underrepresented students.

Emanuelle, a high school junior from Kentucky, has partnered with Student Voice to lead the test-optional movement in her state. Her local group, The Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, recently met with the president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, which has dropped standardized testing as a minimum requirement for college admissions. Their goal currently is to get a better grasp of the data and the arguments for going test-optional.

“This crisis won’t affect me and my educational trajectory the way it is affecting the trajectory of students who are worrying about where their next meal is coming from. Or the students who are taking care of their siblings all day. Or of those in unsafe home situations. Institutions of higher education have an opportunity to enact policies that recognize the gravity of the situation, the strain it has placed on students, and the fact that the ACT and SAT have never been equitable or accurate indicators.” – Emanuelle

Creating Alternatives to College Tours

With the cancellations of college tours and admitted student events, many high school seniors are struggling to make an informed decision about their college acceptance, particularly first-generation college students. The Maryland-based student-led organization MoCo For Change has created a service connecting current high school seniors with alums from the county who may have gone to their schools of interest. So far, the group has mobilized over 750 county alumni representing 179 different colleges and universities!

“Making a college decision is not just about education but also about the community of students that you want to be surrounded by, the faculty you’re going to be taught by, and the place you’re going to be at for four years of your life. By not having distinct opportunities for admitted students to engage with the community, students right now don’t have an outlet to get to know an important aspect of the college decision-making process. We’re hoping that with this program, we’ll be able to alleviate some of that stress and create an access point to at least one part of that community. ” – Aishlinn, MoCo For Change Co-President

What You Can Do

We hope this post inspires and provides you hope during this uncertain time! If your community is experiencing similar issues, you can use these examples of student activism to create similar petitions and resources. Here are some other tips to get started:

  • Mobilize a group of friends who are equally as concerned about these issues as you are.
  • Research the issue by surveying community members and looking up statistics.
  • Engage trusted adults in your community to help you draft communications and create a strategy.
  • If you’re new to these kinds of actions, don’t let that stop you! You have real power to create positive change in your community and the only way to exercise that power is to get started!

Are you doing anything else to help your community and your peers during this crisis? Let us know in the comments below!

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