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Voices of Our Youth: What Does Engagement Look Like?

Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation
Published on April 22, 2021

Written by Natalie LaPorte, a Junior at Truckee High School – With all of the concerns around the impact that the quarantine was having on our youth, TTCF decided to tap a local student to hear about the experience in her own words

Today’s high school students have faced an enormous amount of stress during their lifetime. They were born during the 9/11 crisis, went to elementary school during the 2008 Great Recession, and their middle school life was pockmarked with active shooter drills, where they were taught to suspect their own peers. Not to mention, growing up in the biggest technology boom since the Industrial Revolution with the invention of TV and social media, and now, adding a pandemic to the list…

With businesses shutting down and our normal routines getting turned upside down over the past year, engagement and life outside of the classroom has also shifted. Pre-pandemic, the entire life of a teenager was centered around school: getting ready in the morning, time in the classroom, extracurriculars and homework. Now, due to lack of forced entry into the outside world, the teenager has more autonomy over their schedules and can do what makes them feel productive and happy. More than ever, students have found connection and comfort in digital platforms such as TikTok, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram that allow them to interact with a global community. 

Live streams of “music to study to” are watched by billions of students around the world, all studying together but separate. Day-in-the-Life “TikToks” have become very popular among the Modern Teenager as well. One such TikTok shows a girl who gets up at 11:30 p.m. and lives out a nocturnal life. She completes her homework as soon as she wakes up, then reads or draws. She then gets ready for the rest of her day before she goes for a walk as the sun rises. Her day ends with her last class, after which she goes to sleep. This schedule may seem most extraordinary, but it is not an utter rarity. Videos of recipes, pet care and plant-care and self-care are all going viral. These videos are filled with interactive comment sections of people asking questions to the content creator or sharing their own experiences with these activities. Hundreds of students of all ages are learning and engaging by “quietly following along” with their online instructor. 

Today’s classroom engagement simply doesn’t look the same anymore; it’s metamorphosed into something different entirely: quietly following along. On an average school day, students log into their first class of the day at 10 a.m.- usually with cameras off and microphones muted. If the teacher does not require students to answer questions or participate in group discussions, these settings remain this way for the duration of the four classes. “How can kids be learning if they spend most of their time in class with their cameras off and microphones muted? How are they staying focused? How do we know if they are engaged?” Teachers and parents, as well as students themselves, acknowledge that they could be doing anything behind those screens, and there certainly have been comical moments of students unmuting at inopportune times to reveal them watching YouTube or on the phone with a less-than-happy parent. It’s an understandable concern to wonder whether or not we are actually engaged. 

 However, for the most part, students are there, actively taking notes and listening. The pandemic brought new stress, and new anxieties about going into the outside world, but for the most part it opened up new opportunities for them. School became a smaller part of their life and engaging in broad communities became a bigger part.