How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected Students’ Social Skills?

Clay Burdette, Staff Writer

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, relaxing with friends after school turned into somber phone calls that ended with empty promises of seeing one another soon.  

Now that people are getting vaccinated and interacting face-to-face, a new pandemic is festering, one that’s been bubbling since the beginning of coronavirus: the mental health crisis.  

Many students depended heavily on talking to each other through screens for a year and a half, and this raises the question: how has the pandemic affected students’ social skills as they reacclimate to in-person school? 

According to a medical study published by the Centers for Diseases Control, last year in the U.S., the proportion of emergency room visits attributable to mental health among kids between 12 and 18 rose 31%.  

The pandemic’s national impact on teens’ social and emotional lives was felt at the school.  

Freshman Jojo Luth said last year, most in-person students forgot about the people who stayed online. She was virtual the entire year and came back to a school that didn’t know her. 

“Almost like I had to start over,” she said.  

Luth said it took her a few days to ease back into this school year, and she found comfort in the silence and lack of interaction in the classrooms as compared to pre-pandemic school.  

“There’s not as much drama,” Luth said. 

Freshman Lielle Cazenave somewhat agrees with Luth. Cazenave did virtual homeschool prior to the pandemic, so she didn’t have to deal with the drastic change most students endured once March 12, 2020 came around. This year is her first year in public school.  

“It’s surprisingly easy to make friends,” she said of the switch from online homeschooling to in-person. 

Junior Reese Moore found himself walking up to people at lunch, “which was something I never would’ve done before COVID,” they said, highlighting their new effort to be social. 

Both Luth and Cazenave said the school’s approach to mend lost social skills is lacking. 

Luth said some teachers don’t do enough to foster discussion in the classroom, and instead resort to “pulling sticks out of a cup.” 

“It makes everyone uncomfortable,” Luth said. “Most of us have some form of anxiety, socially related.”  

Moore finds clubs are very helpful for socialization, though, finding most of their friends through the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). 

“I’ve met most of my friends through clubs,” Cazenave said, agreeing with Moore.  

Luth finds she’s as awkward in clubs as she usually is in class, though.  

As someone passionate about mental health, counselor Virginia White said the problem with online learning was that no one had the opportunity to speak up about how much they were hurting outside the daily Teams calls.  

“We [the counselors] wouldn’t hear about it if they were struggling,” she said. 

The transition back to school however, has introduced a rush of students flocking to the counseling office. White said that, “a hundred-thousand percent,” students came in more to speak about struggles making friends and interacting in the classroom.  

To aid students in their social challenges, White said B² is going to start being spearheaded by counselors, so students can “have fruitful conversations about mental health, removing that stigma in the classroom,” she said. “Good news is coming.” 

White finds even in the hallways, students are less talkative. She finds herself walking down the hallways in the morning, saying “hello” and “good morning” to students who’d usually say it back.  

This year, she’s greeted with silence.  

“It sucks, for lack of better words,” White said. “I feel discouraged.” She greets students as an opportunity to pull otherwise untalkative students out of their shell and make them feel included. “We’re all a member of a shared community; why don’t we act like it?” 

Director of Theatre Cory Kelley said he thinks his students haven’t closed up as much as the other sections of the school. He said all his students share a mutual gratitude for theatre that overrides the negatives of the pandemic. 

“Kids who do theatre crave that interaction. They crave that relationship,” he said. 

Although Kelley’s students’ social skills were unaffected, he said they returned to school lacking in projection. Kelley said while students were in quarantine, they got so used to singing into a computer microphone that they came back to school quieter than they used to be. 

French teacher Madame Dines also finds minimal amounts of change relating to social interaction. “About 25% made an effort virtually,” she said. “They’re so excited to be back face to face.” 

Classes are chattier than usual, but Dines is more lenient with talking now because she’s trying to encourage socialization. 

Despite the struggles of the pandemic and the stress it put upon students’ mental health, many are finding the transition back to in-person was a lot less hard than they had first assumed. The pandemic helped some students come out of their shell more than they thought it did.

“I realized I actually really liked people,” said Moore.