Pro-Con Editorial: Return to School? Yes, We Should


Ever since the Ann Arbor Public Schools announced that it would be an option to return to Pioneer in a hybrid setting this year, students have been split on whether or not they want to take the offer. Some students are excited to see old friends, make new ones, and to be back in a classroom setting where they can focus. Others are concerned about factors like inadequate protection from the virus, readjusting to a large social environment, fear of struggling academically, or just reluctance to leave the comfort and convenience of having class in bed. While coming back to school may seem unnecessary or unpleasant for some, it is the best thing to do for mental health and it is important to get back up to speed academically and socially before the summer.

To be sure, concerns about the physical safety of students must be addressed. It would be incorrect to claim that the chances of contracting coronavirus from attending school are absolutely zero and as such any student who is, or interacts with, a high risk, unvaccinated person should stay at home. That being said, due to vaccinations and herd immunity, cases and hospitalizations are dropping at a rapid rate in Washtenaw County. In fact, the week of Feb. 29, 2020 saw 36 people hospitalized with the seasonal flu while the week of Feb. 29, 2021 saw 20 hospitalized with Covid-19. In addition, according to the World Health Organization, the controlled and sanitized environment of a school is one of the safest places to interact with people. The WHO conducted a study on reopened schools across several countries and found that “Re-opening of schools was associated with few COVID-19 outbreaks when public health measures were in place.” This is because, according to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, individuals under 20 years old are less than half as likely to transmit the virus. Furthermore, the WHO study found that school staff were nearly three times more responsible for the introduction and transmission of the virus than students. This will no longer be an issue as the majority of teachers returning to Ann Arbor Public Schools buildings will be vaccinated. 

With the reality of Covid transmission levels from school being kept in mind, an arguably more pressing danger to high school students is their worsening mental health. In a survey conducted by the ACLU of Southern California, 54% of high school students said that they were in need of mental health services, with 32% of them claiming to not have struggled prior to the closure. These results have life threatening implications as a study in the Journal of American Medicine showed that emergency room visits for self-harm and suicide attempts increased significantly among children aged 10-18 from 2019 to 2020. The vast majority of these students attribute their decrease in mental health to limited interaction and feelings of loneliness or isolation. Conditions like depression and anxiety are so perilous because they are able to compound upon themselves and actively restrict someone from breaking out of the vicious cycle. During online school it has become easier for many students to set their alarms later and go to class in bed, but it is these sorts of routines that lead to danger. For this reason, I would urge all students to at least try in person school for a day or two and see if interacting with teachers and classmates doesn’t help with feelings of alienation that you may not have even known you had.

Avoiding negative repercussions is not the only reason to go back to school though. There are also social and academic benefits that will continue beyond the last days of the pandemic. For freshmen, it is an opportunity to develop stronger relationships with your classmates for the next three years and get a layout of the building (as someone who once ended up at the pool while searching for E-Hall I can tell you how important that is.) For sophomores, it is a chance to break out of the common academic sophomore slump by having an actual classroom to focus in. Also, walking the halls again will make you feel like less of a fraud next year as an upperclassman or woman. For juniors, it is essential to develop relationships with the teachers who will be writing your personal letters of recommendation, but have been staring at a mostly silent gray rectangle with your name on it all year. As a matter of fact, all classes should go see their teachers if they can because we owe it to them for the challenges they have faced all year. Furthermore, for underclassmen befriending just one teacher makes high school infinitely more enjoyable.

Finally, the class who needs to come back to school the most, but wants to the least: Seniors. It is imperative that we resurrect the social skills and work ethic that we will need for the next phase of life. We are lagging behind as the majority of the country and the state have seniors back in person. In college, you do not want to relearn how to take an in-person test or at a job interview come to the sudden realization that you cannot act like your internet is down when there is a challenging question. Above all else though, I believe that regardless of how you felt about your high school experience, it must be acknowledged that Pioneer is a truly special place and it would be a shame to pass up the last opportunity to walk through the halls.