High School Students' Experiences in March During the Coronavirus Pandemic

At least 55 million students ended the school year learning at home after approximately 124,000 public and private schools closed their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic. This "new normal" created uncertainty among high school students about their futures as many struggled with the pandemic’s compounding effects as they also worried about basic needs such as food and housing.

This brief summarizes students’ responses to survey questions that asked them to document their experiences during the pandemic. Students provided information related to the technological devices and quality of the internet they could access at home for school-related activities, learning at home and online compared to their in-school experiences, and whether their basic needs were being met during the pandemic.

So What?

Students are resilient but were struggling (as most people are) to adapt to their dramatically changed circumstances. Most, but not all, students had access to the technology needed for online learning; however, many found it difficult to adapt. The pandemic impacted not only students’ learning experiences but also their basic and mental health needs.

Now What?

There is still uncertainty about what a reopening of schools will look like for teachers and students this fall. As states contemplate the future of reopening schools, this report offer recommendations for policymakers and educators:

Resolve inequities in access to technological devices and the internet: Policies and programs must be adopted that close the digital divide for all students.

Scale up and improve online education instruction and materials: Funding professional development and support for educators to teach effectively online is a critical investment both now and in the future.

Consider the whole learner: Increasing access to tutoring; supplemental nutrition; social and emotional development; and school-based mentoring, counseling, or mental health care will help all students, particularly those from underserved backgrounds, more effectively cope with the impact of the pandemic.

Address food insecurity: Many school districts innovatively ensured that students learning at home received food they would typically have received at school. The federal government has given approved states flexibility to apply Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds to address citizens’ food needs due to the pandemic; states that have not yet applied for this flexibility should do so.