Blog by John Baylor, originally posted by the Omaha World Herald.

I never thought I’d say this, but I wish students talked more.

I went back to teaching high school students in-person about a month ago, and I barely recognized them. Other teachers agree: students are subdued, quiet, withdrawn.

I wish they talked more.

Maybe it’s the masks. Maybe audible communication has finally been totally surpassed by the “peck-peck-peck” electronic version. But after teaching high school students for 25 years, I think there’s more to blame for these sudden changes in teenage demeanor than masks or phones. The full spectrum of COVID-19’s influence has subdued our students.

Relationships and purpose are essential to human happiness, and COVID-19’s impact has undermined both. All the uncertainty, the unprecedented disruptions and the health risks have been so unsettling to all of us.

Bad habits have taken hold, and it takes time for good ones to replace them. Five months of isolated, inactive living needs to be undone to restore students’ confidence and enthusiasm for the future.

Safe socializing and exercising are more critical than ever. Connecting with the adults who care for them is more critical than ever. We need to reassure our students and restore their enthusiasm, or opportunities may pass them by.

Here’s one example: Seniors should be attacking their classes and the ACT or SAT, taking either test at least twice this fall. Many seniors didn’t take the spring or summer ACTs, and many have pass/fail grades from last spring. Few were able to find internships last summer, and some have had their extracurricular activities disrupted. In the midst of cancellations and disruptions, solid grades this fall and a higher test score can really help.

None of this is fair, and all of this is unprecedented. But colleges have only finite amounts of merit-based and need-based aid, and they like to see huge GPAs, or solid GPAs and solid scores.

Schools are also looking for resilience. Only self-drive is needed: Many seniors get to take the in-school ACTs for free. And now students receiving free-and-reduced lunch qualify for four more free ACT tests.

There’s little more than three months until January, a time for seniors to enhance their GPAs, test scores, extracurricular skills and their options post-high school. Seniors should be on the attack.

The stakes are higher now as well for sophomores and juniors. Their spring grades may be given less weight and this year’s given more.

I don’t blame our young people for feeling down. The uncertainties of this time are difficult to ignore and hard to process. But time advances, along with students’ near-term future. Let’s work together to restore their enthusiasm.

How?

Let’s thank, support and celebrate the brave teachers who are working so hard to reach these kids in front of them, as well as those on screens learning at home.

Let’s connect meaningfully with our children each day. Let’s minimize our own screen time — and theirs. Relationships and purpose are needed now more than ever.

I can’t wait until our high school students are talking more — a sign that they’re finding their footing and getting after their goals.