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Written by intern, Nina McIntyre

“It might seem like what you’re working on is pointless, but whether it’s to help you achieve future goals, or simply to form a bond with others, you can definitely find a way to give it all meaning.”

COVID-19 has been a big force influencing mental health during the last eight months of our lives. As students, the pandemic weighs heavy on our consciences, however now that we have re-entered school buildings (and some have left schools for the second time) and begun the hefty workload with the anxiety of time management, we have double the stress. As a student, the stress isn’t as much the workload as it is the meaning of the work. Though teachers claim to want to lower stress for the kids, it feels to me that teachers only assign work to assign us work. For some, it’s hard to complete work knowing that it’s only getting done to get done. We need to know that the work is going to benefit us, and present something to keep with us.

I asked some students from West Hartford what their opinion was on the meaning of schoolwork and whether they believe they’re getting benefits. All students that were asked responded that the work is a large percentage busy work that is getting assigned just to give students work. Lia Nichols, a sophomore at Conard went straight to the point with her response, “No [school assignments don’t benefit me]. Absolutely not. School assignments rarely have any meaning to them in the first place, and especially not during COVID.” She alludes to teachers wanting to lower stress but assigning hours of pointless busy work in addition to the stress of the pandemic. Another interesting response I received was from Afaf Albur, another sophomore from Conard. Afaf said, “I would definitely say that homework, at this point feels like an assignment with a due date” she continues on with a most intriguing point, “the point of homework is to finish in time and not really to understand what the topic is fully.” This is giving her a lot of stress. It’s more like a race to the finish line to get full credit than fully absorbing the new information. Marlena Pegolo, another sophomore at Conard said something similar to Afaf, “[I feel like I get the fairest amount of work in English] a lot of the curriculum, not just in English, has real meaning but in a lot of subjects we are not asked to extract and apply them since there is new content hurled at us left and right.” Marlena suggests that the lack of explanation of what the benefit is is stressing most students out as well. In some cases, the work does have benefits, but the class pace is moving so fast that students don’t have a chance to actually get the benefit out of the assignments. Overall, students don’t feel that they’re getting much aside from points to a grade from their assignments.

I then asked the same students whether they have a way of finding a benefit of doing the work, and what they do to feel like their work has meaning Marlena Pegolo had a thought provoking response, “I guess I would say my way of feeling gratified is submitting all of my work, but in the long run, I feel like we should maybe slow the pace of some classes and focus on how we can personally benefit and learn from [these assignments].” She offers a suggestion to schools in general on how this stressful issue can be resolved, but she thinks that simply crossing the finish line and seeing the 100/100 in Powerschool is the most gratification that she’ll get. Afaf Albur said, “It’s really stressful sometimes to have to deal with assignments I’m going to forget about by next week, but I guess I keep reminding myself that it’s the only way I’m going to get into schools [and eventually jobs and career paths].” The prospect of an “academic finish-line,” to coin the term, is promising but it also poses the question: how do we really get to keep the knowledge and not– like Afaf said– “forget about it by next week?”

So, how can we get benefit from schoolwork without the assignment really being for the purpose of benefiting the kids? I am lucky enough to have a few subjects that I really do enjoy, so I’ll share what tactics work for me. I try to think of how exactly what I’m doing will benefit me in the near– or far future. For example, I try to practice Spanish after I finish my Spanish assignments rather than just leaving it at the original assignment because I’d like to move to a Spanish speaking country, so learning the language will benefit me in the future when I do. In addition, for any World Language class, you can find a music artist (or many artists) from that region or country that speaks that language, and you can learn from them! Hey– that’s how Selena Quintanilla learned Spanish, so if she can do it, so can you and me! It makes learning languages fun! Or with my history class, I find someone I can talk to about what I learned, to form a connection with the person over the topic, or also to make sure I fully understand it. English is another good one, talk about the book you’re reading with someone to bond, and use new words you’ve learned in real life to give all those vocabulary quizzes meaning! It might seem like what you’re working on is pointless, but whether it’s to help you achieve future goals, or simply to form a bond with others, you can definitely find a way to give it all meaning.

For more articles about dealing with the changes brought on by COVID-19, check out our Winter Newsletter “Coping With A COVID Holiday Season.”

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