Community Pages Editorial: Impact of pandemic on middle schoolers

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While the plight of college students throughout the new normal of the pandemic has been a popular topic of discussion in the media, it often goes unnoticed how difficult it would be to experience the life-altering changes of a pandemic during another formative period in life middle school. 

Students living in Brodhead House or Farrington Square may hear the shouts of Broughal Middle School students and whistles of crossing guards each morning as both middle school and college students prepare for their day. 

While Broughal Middle School, along with the rest of the Bethlehem Area School District, has been primarily hybrid with the option of fully remote learning throughout the pandemic, it is important to acknowledge the unique sacrifices and challenges middle school students have faced throughout the pandemic. 

Masks are required for all students and class sizes are limited, with half the students attending each day. Each student attends school two days a week, with some students are fully remote due to family preference. 

For many of us, we recall middle school as a uniquely challenging time. We developed our identities, built friendships and made questionable fashion choices. With so many biological, internal and external changes, middle school is often remembered as a time with highs and lows.

When COVID-19 is added to the mix, all of these challenges have the potential to be amplified. 

Broughal Middle School sixth grade learning support specialist, Caitlyn Byrne, said that the social impact has had a tremendous impact on students’ self-esteem in the classroom.

“I’m constantly staring at black screens,” Bynre said. “They’re even worried about talking publicly because they don’t want to be judged by other people because they don’t want to look stupid. It’s a crucial social time for these kids too and they don’t have that connection with their classmates.”

According to the 2021 Hechinger Report, COVID-19 has been increasingly disruptive for 

middle school aged students. The study states that as the brain develops in adolescence, socialization becomes critical as pre-teens and teens become more aware of “what other people are thinking and feeling and how best to relate to them.” 

Even more critically, it is a period of development where students learn to interpret facial expressions and nonverbal communication, much of which is hidden behind the mask. 

All of these experiences and factors pave the way for students to move on to flourish in their social lives. The sacrifices of middle schoolers throughout the pandemic should not be overlooked. And in the post-pandemic world, adequate resources must be provided in order to reacclimate students to pre-COVID-19 socialization. 

Broughal Middle School has taken great strides to minimize the effects of COVID-19 on students and their families by providing emergency funding for the free and reduced lunch program, as well as one-time emergency payments for low-income families.

While resources are available for families, many Broughal Middle School students said what they miss most from pre-COVID is connecting with their classmates, both inside and outside of school. To sacrifice “normal” socialization during COVID-19 at the middle school age is extremely challenging.

“They’d rather be in school every day,” Byrne said. “They miss their friends. They don’t like doing this by themselves. Even the atmosphere in the classroom, they’re like ‘Give me more!’ It’s a longing for something so normal that we have never seen before.”

As the community pages editorial board, we acknowledge the sacrifices that Broughal middle schoolers have made as they have so willingly adopted the challenges that the pandemic presented, both in regard to their education and socialization.

In a developmental period when most students long to become more independent, it may feel as though they have lost that opportunity as students now spend more time at home and less time in the normal world. 

But we want middle-aged students to know that their ability to adapt and continue their education amidst extreme changes is a huge step in independence that deserves recognition. Both the Bethlehem Area School District and students have shown great resilience over the past year. 

“I think a positive change will be that it’s made children more independent and prepared for their future,” Byrne said. “Now the question is: How will we rebound?”

Their adjustments, both socially and academically, do not go unnoticed by the community, and the world cannot wait to see what the post-pandemic future holds for these students as what was once the “new normal” is now “new potential” for the promising months to come. 

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