Esteban Tarango, 12, was excited to make new friends when he started middle school this year in Tempe, Arizona. Instead, his school year kicked off in front of a computer screen. “I’m honestly kind of sad,” Esteban told TIME for Kids. “I feel like I’m missing out.”
The back-to-school experience has been upended for students everywhere. That’s because of the coronavirus pandemic. As of mid-July, school closures had affected more than a billion students worldwide. That’s according to United Nations secretary-general António Guterres. In an August 4 video message, he said the pandemic “has led to the largest disruption of education ever.”
TEMP CHECK A student at Baldwin Park Elementary, in Orlando, Florida, has her temperature taken on her first day of school, August 21.
PAUL HENNESSY—NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES
In the United States, many schools have reopened with remote learning only. But some schools have brought students back into the classroom. Others are offering a mix of online and in-person instruction.
Life at school today looks very different. Schools are sanitizing often. Temperature checks are common. There are many new rules to follow.
ALL CLEAN In Robeson Township, Pennsylvania, a school bus driver sprays disinfectant. School districts take this step to slow the spread of COVID-19.
PAUL HENNESSY—NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES
“We’ll have to wear a mask,” Mia Westerman told TFK over the summer. She’s a sixth-grade student in Clarksburg, West Virginia. “We’ll have to social-distance,” she added. “And we’re not allowed to change classes or eat in the cafeteria.”
COVID-19 was first discovered in 2019. It’s the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Recent studies show young people are less likely to get seriously sick from the virus. But kids can spread the virus to others. Staying home is one way to slow the spread of the disease.
LUNCHTIME New measures are in place to promote social distancing at a school cafeteria in Winter Springs, Florida.
BEN HASTY—MEDIANEWS GROUP/READING EAGLE/GETTY IMAGES
Decisions about how and when to reopen schools are being made on a case-by-case basis. They’re constantly reevaluated by local officials and leaders. The virus is so new that our understanding of it is always changing. Plus, it is better controlled in some parts of the country than in others.
“It depends on where you are,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said, when asked if kids should be back in classrooms. Fauci is the nation’s top infectious-disease expert. He spoke with the Washington Post, in a July 24 interview. “We live in a very large country,” Fauci added.
NEW TO CLASS A teacher and a fourth-grade student at Wesley Elementary School in Middletown, Connecticut, use a see-through barrier to work on a reading lesson over the summer.
GILLIAN LAUB FOR TIME
Should kids be learning virtually or in the classroom? There’s no easy answer to this question. In-person learning would help the economy. It would allow some parents to go back to work. Even so, remote learning is the safest option in many places for now.
But learning away from teachers and classmates is difficult. The isolation is having an effect on kids’ mental health.
FIRST-DAY JITTERS Esteban Tarango, 12, attends his first day of middle school from home, in Tempe, Arizona, on August 17.
COURTESY ESTEBAN TARANGO
The pandemic has also created greater inequalities. Kids who rely on school for some of their meals might not have enough to eat. And some students don’t have access to computers or reliable Internet. They’re having a harder time getting their work done.
There’s so much uncertainty in the world right now. But one thing is for sure: You and your classmates are part of history. Years from now, kids will learn about the coronavirus pandemic. They’ll be curious about your experience. And they’ll see you and your classmates as incredibly resilient.