One Year Later: New Data Highlights Urgent Need to Reopen High Schools
DISTRICT | April 13, 2021
One Year Later: New Data Highlights Urgent Need to Reopen High Schools

Chicago Public Schools recently surveyed over 30,000 high school students—68 percent of whom were Black or Latinx—to hear their thoughts about returning to school before the end of this school year. One question asked them to describe the emotions they have been feeling during remote learning. The four most common responses from students who answered this question: 

  • Tired (79 percent)
  • Overwhelmed (69 percent) 
  • Bored (63 percent)
  • Frustrated (63 percent)

A high school experience should not be tiring, overwhelming, boring, or frustrating. And there are shared opinions and experiences baked into each of these words. 

To gauge our students’ frustration, we asked them if they felt like their education had been disrupted because of remote learning—79 percent of students who answered this question said they did in at least one of their classes. In terms of tiredness, we asked our students how many hours they participate in remote learning daily—77 percent of students who answered this question said they are signed in and engaged on a screen for six or more hours each school day. 

When thinking about boredom, we asked our students about the challenges they’ve faced during remote learning—73 percent of students who answered this question said they are not interested or motivated to complete their assignments. And feeling overwhelmed is certainly related to our question about how often students are connecting with their teachers outside of class time—96 percent of students who answered this question aren’t doing so on a daily basis.

Regarding improvements they would make to remote learning, 48 percent of students want more help with understanding assignments, 42 percent of students want more opportunities to connect with their peers, 41 percent of students want more ways to connect with their teachers, and 37 percent of students want more social-emotional support. 

Reopening our high schools is a matter of equity. Even a high-quality remote learning experience cannot compare with being back in the classroom with your friends and teachers—especially for our most vulnerable students. Remote learning also means that students often have additional responsibilities. Take, for example, Brigina K., a junior at Uplift High School. 

“I’ve been babysitting and doing school at the same time. It’s difficult to stay in class and pay attention because the youngest is a baby,” she said. “I keep slipping off and then catching back up; it’s been a really rocky ride. I feel like I’ll be better focused in the classroom because there will be less distractions.” 

When she was at Uplift, Brigina routinely received social-emotional support through Polished Pebbles, a mentoring program she was involved in through the school. She was also a part of her student council and Uplift’s student voice committee all while playing basketball and running track. The extracurriculars are one reason she’s looking forward to going back, but she says the main reason is the people. 

“I want to keep building relationships that I have with most of my teachers and build new relationships with the teachers who I just met this year,” she said. “My main goals for the rest of this year are to keep up my grades and try to get everything ready for college so I’m not bombarded during my senior year after having spent so much time at home.” 

Brigina, and students in every Chicago neighborhood, deserve the same opportunity to reconnect with their teachers and peers in person before the school year ends. Remote learning is not working for the majority of our high school students, and many of them become more disengaged with each passing day. 

Students are tired, overwhelmed, bored, and frustrated—we need to change that. 

Want to hear what other high school students have to say? Click here to read the thoughts of three students from Hancock High School, two freshmen from Curie High School or a senior from Austin College and Career Academy.