It’s no surprise the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lifestyles and actions of millions. Several local educators agree that both schools and the way students learn has changed as a result of school closures, hybrid learning and more.
Megan Middleton, a teacher in the International Baccalaureate program at Johnson High School, said educators can now see a direct correlation between a student’s mental health and their learning. Before the pandemic, Middleton said there was some attention to mental wellness, but it didn’t go far enough.
When schools shut down last March due to COVID-19 cases, Middleton said she was “greatly” impacted and worried that her students were as well. In 2021, Middleton said Hall County Schools has placed an emphasis on safety and wellness. She said classrooms are more than learning facilities, they are “safe zones” for students.
“I think teachers came back after the shutdown and said education can’t continue how it’s been. This isn’t all about tests and grading. We need to check on our students' wellness so they can do well on all those tests,” Middleton said.
The Hall County School District announced it received a $2 million grant, titled Project Aware, aimed toward increasing awareness and training on mental health issues among school-aged children. The school district has already begun mental wellness training and programs for both students and staff.
Aside from prioritizing mental wellness, Middleton said she’s noted a rise in reliance on technology. Even weeks after in-person classes resumed, she said teachers and students are utilizing technology “three times as much” in previous years.
While the increase in tools and online platforms proved beneficial for teachers, Middleton said she’s noticed a decline in social interaction between students.
“Students are now used to being behind a computer and being isolated because they were for so long. It's been challenging to get students to come out of their shells and interact in the way that they used to,” Middleton said.
Students walk down the hallways and avoid eye contact, others seem less interested in socializing, Middleton said. Although she believes technology is a necessity, Middleton said teachers have noticed they must encourage interaction and person engagement. Gainesville Virtual Academy teacher, Meredith Ross admitted it’s harder to form relationships with students through a screen. As a first-year virtual teacher, Ross said she’s had to get creative on ways to better understand her students using solely technology.
“I’ve had to dig deep and find new ways to get to know my students and get them to open up just through a screen,” Ross said. “This way of teaching can be hard but has made me a more rounded teacher.”
Ross echoed Middleton and said that education’s increased reliance on technology pushes her to believe online learning will continue long after the pandemic is gone.
Despite changes and adjustments to education, Ross said the pandemic shed a light on the “stability and importance” of education. When the pandemic shut down schools, local teachers and faculty volunteered to deliver meals to students. Ross said school and learning continued when businesses and jobs shut down.
In this year compared to others, Ross said there’s been an appreciation for how education continued during the pandemic.
“I think the pandemic showed people that education is the glue, the glue to everything. It kept us and continues to keep the community together,” Ross said.