Despite my 70 years, I can still recall some very vivid memories from my early childhood. Feeling jealous when mom brought my new brother from the hospital when I was 3. Lining up with my schoolmates for a polio shot at age 6. Walking home from 9th grade alone on a cold, grey mid-morning to attend my grandfather’s funeral.
“We are all pieces of what we remember,” said one author. “Every person’s memory is their own private history,” observed another.
So, exactly two years after the Coronavirus health crisis was designated a National Emergency, I have to wonder, what will the young people of this “COVID generation” remember when they get older? How will it affect our children … the quarantines and masks, canceled activities, remote school?
National media likes to debate how early children form memories, and whether it’s healthier for them to forget or remember the quarantine. To get a ground-level view, I talked to three local experts … an educator, a school nurse, and a mom with three children under the age of 14. Together, they provided an informed, focused and practical perspective.
Trinity Gawron is a Southview graduate and veteran teacher with a degree in middle childhood education. “Normally, people don’t start building memories until they are about four or five,” she explained. “Children younger than that may remember COVID more because adults talk about it later, or when they see pictures of themselves wearing a mask.
“A four-year-old has no idea that he or she missed a pre-school graduation or that kindergarten students usually get time to read on the carpet. For them, the drive-through graduation was just fine. They don’t know what they were missing. On the other hand, an older student knows for sure that they couldn’t play sports or have a prom or graduation. It was a bigger deal for older kids,” she added.
“However, the anxiety level of the parent may also affect long-term memories of COVID,” she noted. “If they have a really anxious mom or dad or teacher, they may internalize that. A child in that situation could soak that anxiety into their being.”
Local students may have fared better than some surrounding communities during the height of COVID because Sylvania offered in-school classes two days a week, explained Melissa Romero, Elementary Director of Teaching and Learning for Sylvania City Schools. And on the days when students worked remotely, teachers, administrators, guidance counselors and school nurses went out of their way to make adjustments for parents and students.
“Whether it was showing up at their window to give a thumbs-up, dropping materials off at students’ homes, or doing a drive-by to wave …everyone involved went out of their way to make home school as adjustable and adaptable as they could,” she said.
“Still, we are now seeing gaps because of a lack of exposure to the classroom. In learning any skill exposure and repetition is important,” she added. “The biggest delay post-COVID is in social behaviors such as adapting to time on task, stamina needed for listening and completing a task. Rather than a 40-minute lesson in the classroom, at-home students gave themselves 15 minutes and then took a break. When they got back to school this year, they had to renew that stamina.”
Breanna Mouch, the district’s Lead School Nurse, added that socialization was another big hurdle that needed work when students returned last fall. “The pandemic and quarantine led to isolation that did not let children be with friends or extended family. With anxiety and depression playing a role, we have gone to great lengths this year to help students re-learn the right social behaviors with their peers … to practice manners and etiquette.”
That said, it appears we are continuing a return to a more normal life and school after two years of COVID. That’s good, of course. But still, what impact will the experience ultimately have on our kids? I leave the final words to our teacher/mom.
“There will be decades to come of studies that address what COVID did to young people psychologically and behaviorally. If a child was left home alone or with a parent who was unable to interact with them as much as usual because they were working remotely, there may be huge academic gaps for those kids, plus a lack of routine. These gaps are going to get bigger over time.”
“Now, educators definitely feel many students have lost a year of accountability or independence or social maturity to COVID. But kids are much more resilient than we think they are. The issue may not be what they remember, but how adults respond to them. All of us … teachers, parents, grandparents … need to slowly coach kids back to how to be independent and accountable.”