The young people of today have been born into a century characterised by rapid and unprecedented change. Being confronted with the COVID 19 pandemic has only added to the difficulties our young men are facing.
Now more than ever, our kids are getting a true sense of their global citizenship and how relationships cross continents, sovereignties and ideological lines and the impact of this on their daily lives. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be one of the most formative experiences for young people today, significantly redefining their outlook and opportunities.
Globally, we know the impact of this pandemic is affecting everyone either socially, economically and/or politically. Young people, and young adults in particular, are likely to have felt the effects of the crisis in unique ways. The impact the global pandemic and accompanying global recession has had on their lives, both now and into the future, cannot be underestimated.
As we re-enter a period of remote learning for our Year 7 – 10 students, we need to remember that although children have not been ‘the face’ of the pandemic, and have largely been spared from the worst of the direct health effects of the coronavirus, it does not mean their wellbeing has not been indirectly impacted in other ways.
The pandemic has seen an increase in the number of families who face financial and social vulnerability, some for the first time in their lives. Facing the stresses that financial and career uncertainty brings has led to things such as, family violence, child protection concerns, drug and alcohol issues, mental illness and physical health concerns, as well as parent/child conflict. The impact on young people when these things occur can be far reaching. Research has shown that chronic stress and adversity can affect relationships and bonds between children and their parents/carers, and that in turn this can affect the child’s ability to regulate their emotions, manage stress in healthy ways or organise their thinking. This is placing further stresses and demands on our kids and in turn on schools and more particularly on teachers.
Whilst we may not notice, kids are very aware of the pressure on their parents, teachers and community leaders, which in turn causes stress for them. Adding to this stress are the subsequent fears that come with loss of jobs and homes, holidays, activities, and family and community celebrations that they have come to expect and enjoy.
The disruption to learning that comes with not going to school, the cancelation of sport or simply not being able to hang out with friends is likely to have a significant impact on our boys. There will be emerging ‘newly vulnerable’ boys, whose situations have changed negatively in ways they’ve not previously known, and who perhaps are finding it more difficult to understand because they have entered an unchartered territory of coping with the extra stress.
Schools have always been safe and happy places for most children, particularly those more vulnerable. For these young people and their families, school offers the chance to access services, support, activities and opportunities, provide a sense of belonging in a safe environment. Attending school makes their lives more normal, supporting their sense of identity and providing a place to learn, along with the sense of joy and happiness that these things bring.
School is also a place for friendships, class mates, team mates, teachers and counsellors, all of whom make a difference to their lives. Students often talk about the teacher who has influenced them, or a friend who has always been there for them, or the sports teacher or drama coach who developed a passion in them. The loss of school and the relationships structure and routine it provides children with must be acknowledged.
Many young people will be reflecting on the impact the pandemic is having on them at a personal and community level. For some this has led to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and living in what they describe as a ‘surviving space’ where it is difficult to see ‘the point of pushing through.’
For our Year 12 students, it has already influenced their final year of school, not just in terms of their education, but simply enjoying year 12 and everything that comes with it. They have missed so many opportunities and rites of passage normally afforded all students in their final year but unfortunately they will never get to have those memories.
Many of the Year 12 students, are feeling robbed. They feel as if the best year of their lives has been taken from them. The Year 12 formal, last opportunities for ACC sport, School Leadership activities and opportunities to socialise and have fun, have gone.
The impact of the global pandemic has highlighted to us all how complex and interconnected the social and economic worlds we rely upon are. Many of the systems we had previously taken for granted, which seemed so certain and durable just a few months ago, now seem fragile and tenuous.
Indeed, every aspect of our daily routines and patterns of living have been greatly affected. As we continue to support all our students; both those attending classes on-site, and those beginning their second period of remote learning, we thank all in our wonderful Salesian community for once again working together in solidarity with us. While any recovery is unlikely to see a return to the old normal, we now work to establish a new norm, in the hope that this is better than the old. This experience, while challenging, has reminded us of all that is truly important in our lives. It is our connection to each other that is the fabric of who we are, and I look forward to the day that we can once again welcome all our students back to College grounds.