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High anxiety accompanies return to Borderland school classrooms during pandemic

CANUTILLO, Texas -- When you think of high schools, you think of cafeterias you can’t hear yourself think in, bustling hallways and packed classrooms. But due to Covid-19, those sights and sounds are no longer. 

The new norm of school is cafeterias with no more than two people at a table with a clear divider separating you, single file lines when you return to class and spaced out seating in those classrooms.  

ABC-7 went to Canutillo High School on the first Friday of March and there were just 99 students in-person and 100 teachers.

Students are staying home for a multitude of reasons: Covid-19, it’s easier on their parents and for some, they’ve found more comfort in learning from home.

“You know how big high schools are these days,” child psychiatrist Dr. Sarah Martin said. “Thousands of kids and you know you’re never alone for one single second so for introverts it is a little bit difficult to go back.”

Right now if you don’t want to see someone you can just stay home, but soon enough all students will have to go back to in person learning.

“It’s going to be really important for teachers to show empathy for kids that might struggle with the social life of high school, the hierarchy, we all know there is one,” Canutillo High School teacher and coach Anthony Lopez-Waste said.

While some have enjoyed everything that learning from home brings, others have been yearning to get back to the classroom.

“Everything we do from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade is socialisation,” Nicole Morales, district lead counselor of Canutillo Independent School District said. “I think that has been harder on our adolescents because that’s a big part of their development.”

Morales told ABC-7 that during her 10 years as a counselor, this past year she’s seen more students reach out than ever. She estimates 20% of their school population sought counsel for social, emotional, mental health, suicidal ideas and family resource help.

“Even before the pandemic with all the social media we were socially disconnected from everyone,” Canutillo High School student Lauren Thomas said. “It’s hit so many people so much harder and it’s harder to talk to people and communicate and talk about anything because we’ve been so disconnected for so long.”

If it weren’t for playing sports, the junior said she would have been home the entirety of this past year, but she’s still not sure if she wants to go back completely.

“I would like to come back just for the social aspect,” Thomas said. “But doing school work and learning from home I enjoy that more.”

Thomas isn’t alone, during the first week of March just under 27% of students attended in-person classes across Canutillo Independent school district.

For those that have returned, the new norm of school has its challenges. 

“Some of the kids that are in class now are just now realizing you know this isn’t what I thought it would be coming back right now,” coach Lopez-Waste said.

But still the biggest challenge for some will just be returning at all.

“We should especially pay attention to the kids who had problems with anxiety even before covid started,” Martin said. “Or kids who have trouble with change.”

For those kids who are nervous about going back to school, this is what Morales wants to tell them.

“You’re not in isolation,” Morales said. “We’re all going through this and you know there’s a lot of fear, there’s a lot of anxiety, there’s a lot of issues going through everyone’s mind, but we’re all going to get through this together.”

While the transition back to the classroom will not look the same for any one student, doing it together just might see schools transition back to some form or normalcy. 

The Texas state teacher of the year for secondary education told ABC-7 that maybe schools shouldn’t go back to their old ways. 

“I think the appropriate thing for school districts and really for the TEA and schools across the country would be to look at, are we going to modify this for those that are more comfortable learning online?” Lopez-Waste asked. “I don’t know if they will but I think they should.”

He said he could imagine schools having face to face and online teaching teams in each department.

Schools might look different now then what we’ve ever seen before, but maybe this new norm will become just the norm. 

RESOURCE LINKS for additional reading:

Coronavirus / El Paso / News / Top Stories / Video

Rachel Phillips

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