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This essay shared third prize in the East County Leadership Council (ECLC) 2021 COVID-19 essay contest. Prize money has been provided through the generosity of ECLC donors and a grant from the Foundation for Economic Justice.

By Julia Baxter

West Hills High School student

July 11, 2021 (San Diego's East County) -- Even if you were not infected by COVID-19, no person escaped being impacted by it. The virus infiltrated every aspect of life, from having to instinctively grab a mask before leaving the house to causing national lockdowns. Life revolving around the coronavirus is starting to feel like the new normal. Students are one particular group that’s accustomed to persisting in the face of adversity, but the latest challenge has been difficult to adjust to for many, and it’s sink or swim. 

After experiencing almost a full school year in the midst of a pandemic, the unpredictability of life is beginning to grow old. Upperclassmen deal with colleges changing their requirements for applications on a monthly basis. They’re anxious about tests like the SAT and ACT being canceled and rescheduled constantly, and fight to get in extracurriculars to make up for lost time during the lockdown. Underclassmen are either freshmen who didn’t finish their last semester of middle school and began their first year of high school without seeing their teachers in person until September, or they are sophomores who did not get the chance to finish adjusting to high school expectations due to having their school year cut short.

For some, these circumstances have spurred a negative change in their work ethic, social skills, and motivation. The isolation that accompanied the height of the pandemic also took a toll on students’ mental health. Personally, face-to-face interaction helps with my self-confidence, takes my mind off stressors in my life, and improves my overall happiness; the recent lack of interaction has transformed my enjoyment of socialization into dread. Feeling the need to mentally prepare myself to spend time with my peers is not a new development in my mind that I appreciate. 

As alarming as these changes in the youth are, they are just negative habits that can be broken. For those who struggle to complete their assignments on time and stay on task, make a plan for yourself so that you have a routine. Scheduling breaks in your day is also a helpful practice so that you reward yourself for staying on task. Sticking to a plan and congratulating yourself for your accomplishments is helpful for building new, beneficial habits.

For those who struggle with motivation, whether it’s to get out of bed before noon to do distance learning or to study for an important test, try accomplishing small tasks that help you feel productive. Setting an alarm to get up, making your bed, and brushing your teeth are three simple steps that can spur an entire day of productivity; additionally, exercising in the morning helps to boost energy while improving your physical and mental health. While the improvements may not be immediate, changing your lifestyle leads to breaking unproductive habits and fostering productive ones. For those who have become antisocial due to isolation, the most straightforward fix is to talk to anyone. Forcing yourself to be outgoing will not happen without discomfort, but interaction with your peers will feel more natural over time and, hopefully, enjoyable.

Just like the optimistic fact that the effects of the pandemic can be reversed through work, COVID-19 did not negatively affect every student. One thing that the pandemic, particularly in the lockdown stage, gave us was an abundance of one thing: time. As much of a blessing school is, it is undeniably a source of stress for many youths; the pressure to succeed in the final four years of school before becoming an adult can be overwhelming. So, when spring break turned into a month without school, many teens had a chance to develop important skills that aren’t necessarily school- centric; some worked on physical fitness, some took time to practice a hobby that relaxes them, and others took much-needed time to rest. Even when school returned on a digital platform, there were students who were able to adapt or excel. Being able to semi-control the pace of learning was the boost that some students needed to earn better grades. Others functioned better in the privacy of their home rather than a classroom with distractions. Also, there was no concern of needing to commute to school, so teens had more time to sleep in and make themselves a satisfying breakfast before logging online.

While COVID-19 was devastating due to the toll it took on human life and interaction, it highlighted problems in a variety of areas of society—specifically, students needed to adjust to life in unimaginable circumstances and will likely feel the effects of the pandemic even after it is over. Although this period of time has been detrimental to many youths and their academic performance or social lives, it tested the perseverance of the students in the face of extreme adversity, and some of us came out on top.


Reprints of this essay must credit the author as follows: “Third Prize Winner in the East County Leadership Council 2021 COVID-19 Essay Contest.”

©2021 East County Leadership Council. Reprint permission granted if attribution properly noted.


The other winning essays:




NEW NORMAL By: Merna Poulis

Originally published at:

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