The past year has presented educators, parents, and students with what seems like an endless cascade of challenges to overcome. It’s been anything but a smooth ride since the rapid shift to online learning from home that began in March 2020 and disrupted the rest of that school year. The hurdles continued coming in 2021 because of the hybrid mix of educational policies adopted by school systems nationwide.

With the delta variant of COVID-19 now threatening to upend the coming school year, ENGINE Insights conducted a survey of 1,004 teens ages 13 to 17 and 582 parents/guardians of school aged (K-12) children to capture a sense of what young students and parents are thinking as the first day of school approaches.

Looking for a fresh start

U.S. teens reported that last year was a lousy one, and the pandemic was to blame. Some 36% of students said that last year didn’t go well in school, while only 16% said things were mostly like any other regular year.

So, it’s probably not a surprise that 88% of teens are ready to get back to school and get a fresh start. More than half of the teens (51%) said they were looking forward to the school year more than usual. 

Most kids said they’re looking forward to seeing their friends every day (68% among girls, 63% among boys). Girls led the way in reporting that they’re looking to getting their education “back on track” (49% among girls, 38% among boys).

Almost half of the teens surveyed said they were also looking forward to doing their learning back in the classroom instead of on Zoom (53% among girls, 44% among boys). On a related note, 33% of teens also said they were looking forward to seeing their teachers in person again as well.

Getting dressed up for school (41% among girls, 24% among boys) and participating in group activities (34% among girls, 26% among boys) were some other examples teens reported they were looking forward to again.

What they’re dreading

Unfortunately, 33% of students reported that they are dreading the school year more than usual.

As to what they’re not looking forward to, perhaps not surprisingly just 15% of teens said they were looking forward to waking up early to make it into the classroom on time—while the majority said they were dreading returning to that routine (62% among girls, 52% among boys).

Teens also reported some dread over having to make live, in-class presentations again (55% among girls, 42% among boys) as well as trying to overcome a feeling that they must play “catch up” after the disruptions of the past year (46% among girls, 36% among boys).

Completing regular homework assignments (39%) and paying attention in class (35%) also weigh heavily on some teen’s minds.

It’s also interesting to note that some 34% of teens also worry about navigating the latest pandemic-related safety/social distancing measures inside the classroom while 55% said they would voluntarily wear a mask at school at least some of the time when the year begins.

What’s keeping parents up at night

Of course, the start of the school year impacts parents along with their student children. A major concern 74% of parents have is how COVID-19 will impact schools’ ability to remain at full capacity—which clearly changes how they think about their own ability to head back into the office.

At the same time, 73% of parents are concerned about schools reopening safely—while one of the biggest fears weighing on the minds of parents (71%) is that their children might bring COVID-19 home from school with them.

As a result, 78% of parents think wearing masks/facial coverings should be considered for at least some members of the school community, even if they are vaccinated.

A call to action

The challenges of the pandemic continue to disrupt how and where students can pursue their education. But what hasn’t changed is the need to deliver a dynamic competitive advantage for students’ education and career journey.

To create this advantage, communities need to come together and embrace a new paradigm for what education should accomplish. That’s our vision at the 2021 Education with Purpose: Call to Action livestream experience, and it’s the message that drives everything we do to support parents, educators, employers, and communities.

Today, it’s more important than ever for educators to band together and learn from each other as we collectively head into an uncertain future. Ready or not, we’re headed back to school, so let’s stay positive, work together, and continue to make a positive difference for the young people we serve.