What Worries Teens About The Health Crisis? What Gives Them Hope? We Asked Them

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21min 10sec
Alex Scoville/CPR News
Rodrigo at the CPR studios. He’s a junior at the charter school in Denver where Young Han Lester teaches.

When Rodrigo Villalobos’ high school extended spring break because of concerns over COVID-19, he was relieved.

“I was really nervous of like all the AP tests coming up and schoolwork that was starting to pile up,” he said.

Now that classes and tests will be remote for the rest of the school year, Villalobos said he’s realized that learning from home comes with its own pressures. That includes finding the motivation to focus.

Villalobos, 17, is a junior at a STRIVE Prep charter school in Denver. In December, he participated in a CPR News panel on the pressure to achieve in high school that's part of our ongoing series, Teens Under Stress. We followed up with him and three other students who participated in the series to see how they’re coping with the ways that the pandemic has changed their lives.

Elijah Mills, 15, is a freshman at PREP Academy in Denver.

Olivia Moench, 17, is a junior at Fort Collins High School.

Lili Flanigan, 17, is a senior at Palisade High School.

These are select moments from their conversation with Colorado Matters. Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.

All three have big worries on their minds. But what small things do they miss?

Villalobos: I think the biggest thing I'm missing is the drive after school to drop off all my friends at home. Now that I haven't seen my friends in over a month, those drives would be the most perfect thing to go back to.

Flanigan: I miss people turning to me in the middle of class and making little jokes at me. We had a very close sort of cohort of students, and I'm definitely missing randomly doing work in a silent room and then someone turning to me and making a really dumb joke.

Moench: I think I'm just mainly missing the community I had at school. Especially in my student council, we had a really close-knit bond and planning events. I really just miss that group of people. And you can do these virtual meetings, but it's just not the same. And in my karate dojo, we have these classes, and I haven't been able to see those people and have the same level of interaction that we had before.

Mills summed up what he misses in one word: “Basketball.”

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Elijah Mills participated in a Teens Under Stress panel in 2019.

School hasn't stopped for the global health crisis. But it has changed dramatically.

Villalobos on video lessons that most of his teachers post: I get really distracted really easily. So if I don't have that self-determination, self-discipline to actually do my work, I can get distracted and pretty much have to stay up later that night to do that work.

Are you spending more hours on schoolwork now because it's hard to stay focused?

Villalobos: Oh, way more. What we have to do is easy, but just because I'll be watching the video and then I'll just get distracted. So then I'll have to rewatch the same video over and over to try to pick up on what it's explaining to me.

Mills said he's keeping up with assignments, but he also gets distracted at home. Flanigan said she actually enjoys the flexibility of online school. She and Moech agreed that they are both getting more sleep than they did before the pandemic.

Staying at home means missed opportunities and milestones

It's not just day-to-day classes that are disrupted, standardized tests are too. And for juniors with college applications on the horizon, that's an especially big deal.

Moench: My SAT was supposed to be on April 14th. It obviously got canceled, which is in a way, not like a blessing, but a little bit like stress-relieving because I definitely didn't feel prepared for it. But it's so important that we take it if we're college-bound because now they're saying that it might be in September, and colleges start opening applications in August. So that's really going to kind of alter our application processes. And I know a lot of people have been stressed about the AP tests because it definitely is super stressful to have these tests that you're planning for just altered and you have to reformat your studying, adjust your schedule for it.

Flanigan, who returned her unworn prom dress and will graduate without the pomp and circumstance: It's weird because you go your whole 12, even 13 years of school ready to have your cap-and-gown, high school graduate moment. And you can't, which honestly, I just hope I get my money back from the cap and gown.

Moench, who says her student council has scrambled to come up with other ways to celebrate seniors: We talked about doing a virtual prom, but we weren't sure how we would implement that or get any participation. And we thought about trying to do something in the fall or winter, but there's just so many obstacles that are making it difficult.

Meanwhile, Villalobos’ school trip to Germany this spring was cancelled, and Mills will have to wait until next spring to apply for an internship.

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Olivia Moench was among the teenagers who talked about their feelings of existential dread around climate change for a Teens Under Stress Panel earlier this year.

How concerned are they about their own health in the midst of this pandemic?

Mills: I am a little concerned about my health because I am asthmatic and it could mess me up respiratorily more, I guess. But I don't really go out as much anymore, so I'm not too concerned about it. But it's definitely on my mind.

Is it hard for you to deal with that kind of underlying condition when most people your age aren't and aren't as worried about it?

Mills: It is different because they don't really understand. They don't really get it. They want to go out and stuff, and then they want to do it and then come around me. But I can't really do that because I’m asthmatic.

Moench: I haven't been too worried that I'll catch (the new coronavirus) because I haven't been going out a ton. But if I'm at work, there's people that could be carrying it and bringing it in. We can still get it and give it, especially I could give it to my parents, who are more at risk.

Flanigan: I am more concerned for my parents, and so I've been very adamant that I'm the one running the errands. I'm the one taking the box to The UPS Store or whatever it happens to be. But I do worry. I wear a cloth mask when I go out that was made by one of my friend's moms. I'm just a little bit paranoid. When I take off the mask and put it in its plastic bag, then I have to sanitize my hands. But what if it was on the mask and now it's on my hand sanitizer bottle, or whatever it happens to be?

So I do worry but not necessarily for my health. I mean, I know that I can have some really intense health complications. Anybody of any age could if they were to get it. But for me it's more scary because I think there's a bigger chance of it really doing serious damage to my parents. So of course I'm worried about my own health, but I think I'm much more worried about my parents and my family.

Villalobos on concerns about his parents’ health: They both work throughout the quarantine. So it scares them because they don't want to get sick, but they kind of have to work. My mom, she works as a cleaner. She works in really high crowded areas because she cleans a lot of apartments. She's actually really scared of getting sick, and they're also both scared of getting hurt on the job because they don't want to have to go to a hospital for any other reason. We all are kind of holding our breaths at the moment.

So what’s giving them hope?

The world might be out of sorts, but these teens said they’re keeping up with friends on social media and Zoom and spending more time with family members who are able to stay home.

Villalobos: The biggest thing giving me hope is my friends, just knowing after this quarantine we're going to have those car rides again. We're just going to all be able to hang out again. So that's the one thing I'm just like, "All right, I need to keep on pushing just for that."

Moench: I think for me just kind of seeing on the news about more shelters opening for the homeless to give them protection from the virus or people donating medical supplies or making masks.

Mills: Just the sense of when all this is over things will be almost back to normal, and I can just enjoy myself more, playing basketball. Basketball is really keeping me going here, just wanting to play.

Flanigan: You see people are clearly actively trying to take their skill set and sort of manifest it in helping other people. So for example, this guy named Ryan Heffington does these dance classes every day [on Instagram], like dance cardio workout classes. And they are the most fun, sweet things. I think the individual people and companies sort of make certain things available based on their skill sets to contribute to the greater good definitely gives me hope. But even for other issues, seeing how we are able to come together.