The Impacts of COVID-19 on the Student Experience

The provincial government has been hard at work for the past few months establishing a safe return to classes for students, but it is clear that this year is unlike any other. There’s no better way to evaluate how well the year is going other than asking two high school students for their honest opinions. This interview is with Vishwa Srinivasan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance at Youth Parliament Manitoba who is in grade 12 and Wesley Yiu, Critic of New Member Relations at BC Youth Parliament who is in grade 12.

Can you explain how your commute to and from school has changed this year due to Covid-19?

Vishwa: Well this year everyone on the bus is wearing a mask, they give you your number and you go to the corresponding seat, I am number 43. They load the bus back to front, everyone either sitting next to someone that’s part of their cohort or their sibling.
After a teacher comes on and gives us directions to get off front to back and be patient, each grade has our designated floor, you have to sanitize your hands once you get in.

Wesley: It’s definitely made me more hesitant to use public transport – which is usually my main method of transport back home. Although mask-wearing is mandatory, it’s not a rule that is often adhered to. As the current wildfire smoke means that cycling isn’t a viable option, I’ve begun transporting by car again.

What changes have you observed regarding your teachers’ responsibilities?

Vishwa: Each grade has their own wing of the school so actually there’s not so much walking around which is nice to be honest but it means that teachers are walking around a lot so you stay in your wing and the teachers switch classrooms. Teachers are also monitoring the student lounge, each person has their designated space and like the classes are one hour and 40 minutes long

Wesley: In class, there isn’t too much of a significant difference. From what I’ve observed, the only additional responsibilities they have are ensuring that physical distancing guidelines are being met, whether it be in the classroom or the hallways.

What do breaks and downtime look like for you during the day?

Vishwa: The free time is study Hall now where you go to the lounge the student lounge and you just sort of sit at your own table at 6 feet apart. Before (the pandemic) you could be on couches and you can just do whatever you want. Now you’re allowed to talk and it’s not like you have to like do homework. You’re allowed to leave if your break’s last thing, if its first period you’re allowed to come late but second period you’re stuck in lounge.

Wesley: In my school, students only take one class a day, which means that my breaks are being spent at home at the moment.

How has lunch hour changed for you and your classmates?

Vishwa: Lunch is a little bit wonky; it happens during the last half hour of period two class and you have sort of alternate days between going to the lunch hall to eat a hot meal, or in your class the school brings a bag lunch for everyone.

Wesley: Lunch Hour is spent at home for the majority of people now. Some groups of friends still do go out for lunch, and I’ve been planning to do so with mine as well. In the beginning of the pandemic, we resorted to jackbox games and discord calls, although we have begun meeting in person more now.

Do you feel like your high school experience has been compromised because of Covid-19, or has Covid-19 caused this year to surpass expectations you might’ve had for a regular school year?

Vishwa: You can’t do much gathering in hallways, so definitely not the senior experience that’s for sure. Just regular old high school is classic high school, so I miss that because I looked forward to it. But I feel like it’s kind of cool that we’re going to be like one of the only senior classes as to deal with this. Sure, were missing out on stuff but like also like looking back on it overall, it will be cooler.

Wesley: Yes, I definitely feel that way. I was really hyped up for my final year of high school- as I finally had a solid group of friends who I could rely on and screw around with, and I found a club (Model United Nations) that really met all my interests. As Model United Nations is often conducted as an in-person, overnight conference, the pandemic has lead to the uncertainty of these clubs.

What are three things that are missing from your student experience because of Covid-19 safety measures?

Vishwa: Parties and gatherings with groups, especially for senior year. Secondly, being able to feel like the oldest in the school. When you are only around a small portion of your own grade you don’t feel the same way. Which brings me to my last added element, I miss interacting with everyone in my own grade. I only see those in my class or spare, and I’m the type of person to talk to everyone so I feel like I’ve never dealt with this new negative feature of school.

Wesley: Stress. Our school has split the year into four semesters now, with two classes per semester, which means that I’m only juggling two classes. As a result, I feel less stressed than I usually would at this point of the year. Opportunities. I had spent the last year actively participating in extra-curculars such as cadets and youth parliament, and gaining leadership experiences and positions within them- for example, I was supposed to go to Ottawa this summer for an Airport Operations Program. Due to the pandemic, these opportunities have been put on hold, and I am unaware of where things will end up. Socialization. This one is an obvious answer, I’ve been unable to see my friends often as physical distance regulations are upheld at school, and the fact that lunch is done at home.

What are three things that have been added to your student experience because of Covid-19 safety measures?

Vishwa: I find I’m getting closer to people I really care about since I’m only allowed to hang with certain people. Limited interactions have brought out who my friends are, who is important to me and who’s not important to me. Which is I think kind of cool I must say, it’s a new level of closeness. Second, I’m getting a unique life experience. I’m already dealing with adversity and change in my senior year, the year before college before everything becomes adversity and change. So, I feel like I’m getting a little taste of that unpredictable future. The pandemic is giving me the time to let my brain realize some creative potential. In both artistic ways and also in like lifestyle ways, I’ve become resourceful.

Wesley: Time. As a result of literally everything being cancelled, I now have an abundant amount of free time, allowing me to relax, game, and of course, prepare my university and scholarship applications. This extra time has proven to be extremely useful. Summer School. I’ve never been able to take summer school due to my commitments during that timeframe. As a result of the pandemic however, these commitments were put on hold. As a result, I had the chance to take some courses early and get them out of the way. Unproductivity. With all this free time, it can be extremely hard to motivate myself, and this pandemic is proof of that. Looking back, there are lots of instances when I could have been a lot more productive- there were many days where I literally accomplished nothing. Now, I’ve still managed to procrastinate on work I’ve been given months to complete.

Vishwa Srinivasan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance at the Youth Parliament of Manitoba, Grade 12
Wesley Yiu, Critic of New Member Relations at BC Youth Parliament, Grade 12

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