Hybrid Learning and Its Effect on Social Development

The Elementary and Middle School point of view on the changes from COVID-19.


Photo by Olivia Thorgersen

The first day of in-school learning for Colin, Killian, and Dylan Reynolds. They are required to wear masks all day like most schools so they decided to get a head start!

This time is crazy for all of us no doubt. The freshman will experience a year no incoming class has ever come close to. The seniors will have the most unorthodox send off from our school. On top of having to complete work both in school and online, it is the college application time for many of us and figuring out how to manage this year and all its challenges is not without its problems.

However, we have been  focusing a lot on high school students, but there are eight other grades who are dealing with the same things we are, possibly with even more problems and concerns. 

Elementary and Middle School are important years in the development of crucial social skills for young children. In an article about the effects of COVID-19 on the social development of young children and adolescents by Healthline, Wendy Walsh PHD , a psychologist who specializes in attachment stated the following on the long term effects of social interaction on young adolescents:

“Kids in late childhood and adolescence are learning how to both find and provide support to their friends, developing the skills for building trust and dealing with betrayal. This is also the time when they’re usually figuring out how to form friendships with deeper roots than just proximity and play. “They do this by experimenting,” Learmonth said. “They are in the process of figuring out who they are and what they want from their friends. This is why those friendships in middle school particularly can be fragile and most kids experience some isolation and heartbreak.” 

Students of all ages need social interaction. Whether with parents as a toddler, a neighbor or bus mate as a kindergartener, and even a best friend in senior year, everyone needs someone to talk to at every stage. I asked kids that attend school all over Suffolk County in all different grades doing all different forms of schooling, their point of view on the new way of learning. First is Dylan Reynolds. A fifth grader from William Floyd School District. 

Q: How do you feel about going back to school during COVID?

A: It feels weird because I’m not going to be able to be with my friends or play with them. I can’t play with anything or anyone and that is really weird for me. I really wish I could talk to my friends but I’m not allowed to really get up. 

Next, Dylan’s younger brother, Colin Reynolds, a third grader also in the William Floyd School District. 

Q: Are you scared about going back to school during COVID?

A: I’m scared but excited because I love going to school but when the virus is around I’m getting a little scared because I don’t want to get it and I don’t want my friends to get it and I don’t want my teachers to get it.” 

Dylan and Colin’s Father is a teacher in Queens.  New York City has already had two teachers recorded as positive for COVID-19 after returning to their schools (MS 88 and PS 1) -both in Brooklyn- on Tuesday, September 8th, 2020 according to the DOE with a possible third case also in another Brooklyn school. The number of infected teachers around the city is assumed to be higher. 

I asked Alma Rosa Calarco, a third grader in The Patchogue-Medford School District, “What has been the hardest part about having to do work at home and in school? Is there anything you would change about how school is done?” She responded:

“It isn’t really that hard to do school, but it is annoying having to wear my mask because the thing [bridge bar] pokes me and I get mask streaks. We can’t really take them off, too. I would change the rule about desks having to be far apart because my one friend is only like two feet from me but my best friend is like ten so that’s annoying and I would get rid of that.” 

While social distancing of desks is crucial to helping prevent the virus from infecting schools, one can clearly see that children are picking up on the consequences COVID can have and how it is affecting their social lives. I have a cousin who is a part of a self made “cheer squad” with his friends but they can’t meet or play together because they are now scheduled at different times.

Even for me, being separated this year into different cohorts, I realized March of 2020 may have been the last time I ever physically saw some of the people I talk to on a daily basis. As a teenager I have a phone so it is easier to keep in touch with people, but as a fifth grader, there is no real way to maintain certain relationships that could have potentially shaped a child’s future.  

Despite the fact that elementary school is an extraordinarily important time for the development of young children, middle school can be deemed equally as crucial for the development of adolescence as they begin to explore new characteristics about themselves.  Middle school friendships can often transfer into high school as well as interests that are discovered such as sports, music, art, and clubs that have higher branches at the high school level. Though not every passion middle schoolers discover comes directly from their school, they may go outside into their community to find what they’re looking for. 

However, because of COVID-19, they are limited in where they can go to express themselves.  Students that are passionate about arts now have to figure out ways to harness their craft in the same way they used to.

Similarly, students that are passionate about sports from a very young age can often be moved to junior Varsity or Varsity Level sports even if they are still in Middle School.  Following the same pattern as art students, they now lose this chance because of changes at the high school level such as football being moved to the spring season. 

I spoke with a seventh grader in the Middle Country School District and asked him, “As a middle schooler, what has been on your mind the most in terms of hybrid learning? Do you feel stressed? Are you scared? He responded: 

“So I’ve been a little confused and frustrated sometimes. Hybrid isn’t that bad though. I do feel stressed every now and then due to work and Coronavirus. I am scared about the Corona [virus] because I don’t want to lose a loved one and I’m also scared in school about finishing my assignments and stuff. Maybe if the virus went down a little more we could go to school five days a week and I’d feel more safe.” 

Some students may be oblivious or choose not to let the current situation affect them, but there are going to be consequences regardless. A lack of social interaction and having to deal with a threat a majority of adults haven’t even dealt with can cause problems for students as time passes. While a couple months or a year won’t do an extreme amount of damage, there are friendships that will be lost, passions that won’t be pursued, and mental health problems as time goes on.

It’s important to make sure students of all ages feel heard and feel okay during such a stressful and confusing time. Kids are smart and they pick up on everything whether we notice or not. They know what is going on and they know how dire the consequences can be. We all have to do our part to make sure they are okay, too.