How do we restore enthusiasm? I never thought I’d say this, but I wish students talked more. When I went back to teaching high school students in person in 2021, I barely recognized them. Other teachers agreed: students are subdued, quiet, and withdrawn.

I wish they talked more.

Maybe it was the masks. Maybe audible communication has finally been surpassed by the “peck-peck-peck” electronic version. But after teaching high school students for more than 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’s impact undermined both. All the uncertainty, the unprecedented disruptions, and the health risks unsettled all of us. Student disengagement has worsened.

So attacking disengagement is key for healthier schools and academic outcomes. Connecting and helping each student find meaningful daily purpose—engaging classes, extra-curriculars, and a vision for their future—is more critical than ever. We need to 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 in the fall and perhaps in February as well. In the midst of cancellations and disruptions, solid grades and a higher test score can really help. 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. Many seniors get to take the in-school ACTs or SATs for free. And now students receiving free and reduced lunch qualify for four more free ACT tests and two free SAT tests.

This is the 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. Past year 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 can we restore their enthusiasm?

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

Take time to 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.

—John Baylor, Owner/Founder of OnToColldge