Little did I know last month how prescient my call to get out of one’s comfort zone was going to be! In such a short, concentrated amount of time, our lives have been thrown upside down. This global pandemic knocked everyone out of their daily routines and into a bizarre new reality unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes. By now, you’ve all read what feels like a gazillion e-mails about COVID 19, social distancing, and “flattening the curve;” everyone has heard that “we are all in this together” time and time again; and we know to wash our hands with soap for at least 20 seconds as much as possible (personally, I’m grateful for my stash of hand creams, since they are being used A LOT to keep my hands from becoming completely raw). In short, there is a TON of uncertainty right now, as well as uncertainty’s friends fear and anxiety.
Compounding contemporary feelings of unease is the timing. Could it be any worse, really? March was already going to be a stressful month for high school families, as regular decision college admission results were going to be released throughout the month, often bringing disappointing and/or heartbreaking news to hopeful high school seniors. Add to that the deep sense of sadness and frustration because these same students can’t hang out with their friends in person and will likely have their graduation ceremonies cancelled, and the situation becomes even more bleak. I truly wish I could give you all hugs right now!
While I can’t offer information on when this pandemic will be over, I CAN provide my advice for high school students and their families during this challenging time. Please note that my suggestions are just that - my suggestions. They are meant to offer some helpful ideas and comfort - they are not replacements for talking to a professional mental health counselors. If you are concerned about your own or your loved one’s mental health, I urge you to call your Primary Care Physician to discuss identifying an area mental health professional, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990, or check out the mental health resources at https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2020/03/how-to-bethedifference-for-people-with-mental-health-concerns-during-covid-19/ .
For High School Seniors: $%^# this sucks! Yup, there’s no other way to phrase it. This was supposed to be YOUR time - time to celebrate you and your accomplishments, time to make more memories with your friends before you all head off in different directions in life, time for prom and graduation, and so much more. Instead, you’re stuck at home, frustrated and disappointed. And you have every right to be! This entire situation ISN’T fair, and it’s OK to be upset and worried. Please read this open letter to all high school seniors, written by a wonderful teacher in Louisiana here - I couldn’t have said this better!
If you’re concerned that you won’t be able to make the best decision about where to submit your deposit, know that you still have time. While May 1st has been the traditional universal deposit deadline, some schools have already pushed their deposit deadline to June 1st to give students more time to deliberate. To check to see if your schools have extended their deposit deadlines, click here. In the meantime, use the resources that you have available (printed brochures and booklets that you collected on campus tours and from your guidance office, school websites that often offer virtual campus tours, social media admitted student chat rooms, college and university LinkedIn profiles, your counselors and mentors, etc.) to get the information that you need in order to make the right choice for you.
Take comfort knowing that there are a ridiculous number of people all over the globe right now working *so hard* to figure out how to make your next steps not only possible, but awesome. That includes your high school administrators discussing how to help everyone graduate and get those final transcripts to schools, as well as government leaders reconsidering waiving or readjusting federal/state testing and graduation requirements. Whether you’re planning on starting college this fall or going overseas for a gap year, trust that the answers to your questions on how this is all going to work will come. It may take time and require your flexibility, but you will get through this and move on with your life!
For High School Juniors: I know that many of you are freaking out (if not on the outside, definitely on the inside). You’re right there with the seniors, worrying about how this pandemic is going to affect your future college plans. I get it, and I want to reassure you that, while I may not be sure about the details yet, you will be OK! This is a GLOBAL phenomenon that we are all going through - that includes every other junior on the planet, as well as all college and university admission officers, the entire staff of the College Board, and everyone involved in any aspect of the college admission process. We all know that this is going to be a highly unusual admission cycle, and that’s OK! Accommodations are already being made - some universities have already decided to go test-optional for just this cycle (to read more about this, click here and here, and to see a list of schools that are already test-optional, click here ). For students wishing to follow the latest updates on standardized testing, be sure to regularly check the following websites for new information: for the ACT click here, for the SAT click here, and for the AP exams click here. Trust that you will NOT be penalized for living through a pandemic! Colleges and universities will take this context into account when reviewing your applications this fall, and it will ALL WORK OUT!!!
In the meantime, you can do a surprising amount of research online! Take virtual campus tours, engage admission officers in online chats, sign up for college-related webinars, and ask current students and alumni questions about their experiences via LinkedIn and other social media outlets. While nothing replaces an in-person visit, you can learn a ton of helpful information from the comfort of your home, so that you will have narrowed your application list down and be very prepared to visit schools when that opportunity becomes available again. This is also a good time to use the internet to have a Plan B for your summer activity, in the event that the stay-at-home order is extended. Create a list of things that you could do from home that will still be meaningful for you (some jobs can be done online, if you’re looking to make money, while there are an increasing number of online courses students can take - including free MOOCs!). Also check out Coursera and EdX. It’s always better to have some options available to you just in case you need to revise your initial plans.
For High School Sophomores and First Years: It may not feel like it now, but you’re the lucky ones. Why? Because you have time on your side. You really only should be focused on your high school careers right now, as well as staying healthy and safe. College isn’t even a blip on your radar screen (or, at least, it shouldn’t be). Use this time at home to explore subjects that you have been interested in, but never had the time to investigate - until now. Read a book you’ve been wanting to read for fun! Learn how to cook, so you can help out at home (same goes for learning how to clean your home correctly and how to safely do laundry). Plant a garden when the weather is better. Your imagination is your only limit! And, if you’re feeling helpless in the face of the pandemic, remember that you ARE contributing to society by just staying home and not hanging out with your friends! You can also do good by learning to sow masks, by organizing a fundraiser to help those in need right now, by writing cards to the aging adults living in nursing homes, by checking on your neighbors to see if you can help them (be sure to social distance and use gloves if you’re bringing them groceries, for example), by reconnecting online with relatives that you haven’t talked to in a while, and by doing so many other activities. Helping others is a wonderful way to feel better, because you know you’re making a HUGE difference in another person’s life!
For Parents: Simply put, you’ve been tasked with the impossible: having to work from home (if you’re lucky enough to still have a job), home school your children, run a household, AND maintain calm during a period when everything has been thrown into disarray. Some of you have the additional stress of taking care of your aging parents, too. I know that you’re all feeling a tremendous amount of stress and pressure right now, so please remember to practice self-compassion. Breathe! You are only human, and you’re doing the best you possible can in this incredibly difficult situation. Take the advice of a wise local rabbi: lower expectations and clarify priorities. Don’t yell at your kids if they aren’t completing all of their homework assignments right now - this pandemic is challenging for them, too, albeit in different ways. Trust that your child’s teachers are doing everything in their power to help your child now, and they will bring your child up to speed whenever we are allowed to resume school again. Let that drive to be productive go! Your job is to listen to your kids, validate their feelings, and help them feel safe and secure. Talk to them honestly but in an age-appropriate way about what is going on and how to take concrete steps to stay safe (like the importance of washing hands thoroughly and for at least 20 seconds). Try to establish some kind of routine, since that structure will help everyone in the household feel more stable (you will feel better, too). Most of all, use this historic moment to teach your children how to be resilient in the face of obstacles. Model good coping skills to your kids - they are looking to you to see how you meet these challenges. We are ALL out of our comfort zones now, whether we want to be or not. Help your children learn that they will get through this, and come out stronger and better equipped to navigate the world when it’s time to leave the nest.
For everyone, please stay join touch with your school counselors, teachers, and administrators to keep up-to-date on your latest school information. Keep a regular sleep and exercise schedule, and try to maintain a somewhat healthy diet (comfort food may be necessary, but make sure to have some vegetables, too, since your diet, sleep, and activity levels all influence your immune systems and right now you REALLY need to stay as healthy as possible to fight this pandemic). Look for the good! Make it a point for the family members at the end of the day to each share one positive thing that happened, showing appreciation and gratitude. Most of all, be kind - to yourself and to each other. While we may not know what tomorrow will bring, we DO know that we truly are in this together!
Maruta Z. Vitols is an independent educational consultant in the metro-Boston area. When not helping students achieve their dreams, she enjoys hanging out with her dog, exploring new places with her husband, and doing yoga.