ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4) – As the summer of 2021 winds down and the bells of the new school year begin to ring many are wondering how much will differ going into the fall compared to the height of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago.
In 2020, both teachers and students were preparing for a school year like no other. Many districts started the year with online classes until it was safe to return to an in-person model. Utahns witnessed classrooms filled with students and teachers wearing masks, Friday night lights with a third of the fans, and of course kids being forced to miss school due to the occasional quarantine. Despite the obstacles of yesteryear, teachers are excited, not to mention prepared, to meet their new students this fall.
Tyler Christensen is a fifth-grade teacher in Southern Utah and a passionate advocate for mental health; he is ready for just about any scenario this school year brings.
“2020-21 school year was hard, different, we didn’t know what to expect and we had to just roll with the punches,” Christensen shares with ABC4.com.
But not everyone handles change from the norm so easily, Christensen admits he can spot the students who seem apprehensive about wearing a mask. “When it came to political issues, their attitudes reflected what they hear at home,” Christensen says, referring to the kids. However, all things equal, he says proper safety measures for both teachers and students are imperative in the classroom. “If we’re wearing masks on day one back to school, we did it for a year and we know how to do it, it’s a pain, we don’t like it, but we can roll with the punches and be ok.”
One positive that seemed to come out of the pandemic was the importance of maintaining mental health, expresses Christensen, a topic that has certainly been top of mind with the news of Simone Biles withdrawing from certain events during the Tokyo Olympics. The conversation has led to some claiming mental health should have always been a concern, especially in school-aged children.
“It needs to be a priority in school,” says Christensen.
The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine shows that 46% of parents say their teen has shown signs of a new or worsening mental health condition since the beginning of the pandemic in March of 2020. Christensen believes that if we don’t have good mental health then our physical health could also suffer.
Like many teachers, Tyler Christensen had to rethink how to make learning fun and interesting for his students during the pandemic. “We had to adapt, I think it’s something great that came from the pandemic, it forced us to look at different ways of communicating with students and parents.”
Finding ways to keep students active and engaged, whether virtual or in-person, is how the fifth-grade teacher plans to educate this school year.
With the Delta Variant spreading like wildfire causing an increase of COVID-19 cases, it’s anyone’s guess how the 2021-2022 school year will turn out.
“It’s important to know we’re all in this together, and we should all be more understanding of one another.”