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Some students still don’t know their schedules as the fall semester approaches. Others haven’t heard from teachers. They worry about their family or themselves contracting COVID-19 if they return to school. And they are concerned that their voice isn’t being incorporated into how best to meet student needs.

Those are some of the concerns and needs a group of high school students expressed during a virtual panel discussion about the coming school year and life during the pandemic. Hosted by Chalkbeat Colorado, the Gates Family Foundation, and the Colorado Education Initiative, the Wednesday panel included 10 students from high schools across the state.


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More than 170 parents, teachers, and community leaders logged in to watch and listen to the students, all members of the Colorado Youth Congress and Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism.

Across the board, students expressed frustration that they still don’t know what their classes will look like or who their teachers will be, even though the fall semester is poised to begin. They asked the adults watching online to seek out student opinions and expertise about remote learning. Some want more time to talk about racial justice issues, which exploded in recent months after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

And students asked their teachers to remember that students have a lot on their plates, including worries about their family’s safety, finding motivation to learn in a difficult environment, and readying themselves for college.

The 10 students said that the pandemic has reshaped their lives in many ways. Schools banished after-school sports in the spring, cancelled extracurricular activities, moved tutoring and counseling online, and reworked — then reworked again — schedules for the coming year.

Students said the looming return to school, even as adults keep shifting about whether to reopen campuses or begin remotely or create a hybrid of the two, provokes anxiety.

“School isn’t my only priority,” said Omar Eltayeb, a student at DSST: Montview in Denver. He also may have to focus on family issues, “or just like stuff in our personal lives,” he said. “And I wish teachers could understand that better. Just, like, be in our shoes.”

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