While the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the first global pandemic to occur, it is the first one most of us have been through. All the uncertainty and change that has been brought upon by this health crisis has also caused much stress and anxiety.
This year, the West Springfield CARE Coalition included questions surrounding COVID-19 in its annual prevention needs assessment. The new questions focused on how the pandemic has impacted the town’s student population.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with Ananda Lennox, the Care Coalition Coordinator, to hear more about the survey and the insight the coalition gained from it.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: While the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the first global pandemic to occur, it is the first one most of us have been through. All of the uncertainty and change that has been brought upon by this health crisis has also caused much stress and anxiety.
This year, the West Springfield Care Coalition included questions surrounding COVID-19 in its annual prevention needs assessment to see how the pandemic has been affecting the student population. I spoke with Ananda Lennox, the Care Coalition coordinator, and others to hear more about the survey and the insight the Coalition gained from it.
Ananda Lennox, Care Coalition Coordinator: What we look for in the data is a bunch of different things. It’s over a hundred questions.
We’re a substance use prevention agency, so of course we’re looking at trends in substance use, the ones that we’re most particularly interested in our alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco and vape products. But we also look at opioids and stimulants and all sorts of things. And then we also ask tons of questions about what we call risk and protective factors.
So, protective factors are things that help promote a kid’s wellbeing, like what helps them stay in school, what helps them stay away from drugs, what helps them form like really tight friendships? And we look at risk factors like are they exposed to a lot of antisocial behaviors? Is there abuse in the home, that sort of thing?
And we don’t just to clarify, we don’t actually ask about abuse, we just ask about perceptions and how people are feeling about themselves so that we can see how our community is doing and then figure out how we can help serve them based on the data that we collected.
Zydalis Bauer: Now, this past year provided you with an opportunity to specifically include questions in the survey around the pandemic and how it’s affecting the student population at West Springfield.
What did the survey tell you this year?
Ananda Lennox: We were not surprised necessarily, but we were definitely kind of shook to see what a large segment of our population had been impacted by COVID.
And we’re talking, like, nearly a quarter of students to up to almost forty five percent, saying they’re experiencing nightmares, unwanted thoughts about the pandemic, less interest in doing things they normally like to do, and even less interest in hanging out the people that they like. And then a close to 20 percent of 10th graders were saying they were worried about getting medical supplies, food and groceries, access to medical appointments.
And so we wanted this data so that we could have a better understanding of what the needs are of the students coming in, because we knew it would be difficult. We’re hoping that school would make everything feel a little bit more normal. But as you know, we’re still wearing masks. There’s still the fear. There aren’t really readily accessible vaccines for the age group that we serve. You know, so there’s still a lot of unknowns.
Zydalis Bauer: Now, Alleyna and Eleanor, as students during this pandemic, you have had to face so much change, especially surrounding how your school day looks like.
How has the pandemic impacted you both academically and socially?
Alleyna Pitaso, West Springfield Student: It’s definitely been a little harder because of, you know, for about half the school year, we were completely remote. It was — it wasn’t as easy to pay attention to class when we were online, at home. It definitely took more effort on my part to actively stay engaged in what my teachers were telling to us.
Eleanor Yates, West Springfield Student: I’ve always been, like, a pretty good student, I think. But this past year, my grades have been at an all-time low because it’s just so hard to stay motivated inside your own home where you’re so used to just being able to wind down and relax.
And being in person, and like how things were last year, is very crucial to me because it’s just very hard to stay motivated when I’m in my room.
Zydalis Bauer: Are there ways that the pandemic has affected you in ways that adults may not be aware of?
Alleyna Pitaso: I think not being able to interact with people my age, I feel like not a lot of people focus or know that being able to interact socially is very important to development as teenagers.
So, even if it’s people that you’re not close with, just being able to say hi to, people face to face does a lot more than people would think it does. And you say that to someone, they might be like, “oh, you’re just being dramatic” but no! I really want to be able to see my classmates’ faces, whether or not I am friends with them or not.
Eleanor Yates: It’s definitely something that someone who might have already experienced high school might not understand the want to just be around people like she said. Like even people that don’t really talk to, it’s just like being around them and being around company’s crucial.
Zydalis Bauer: After seeing the results, Ananda, of their survey and realizing how affected students have been by this pandemic, what resources are available for them to seek help if they do, in fact need it?
Ananda Lennox: For the most part, for the students in our district, we always advise them to first and foremost talk to their parents, talk to a trusted teacher. Adjustment counselors know that there’s going to be much more students struggling than in previous years, so they’re ready as well.