Helping Students Deal With the Pandemic

November 28, 2021

Helping High School and Middle School  Students Process the Pandemic

Nov. 28, 2021



Each generation has its challenges. The generation of high school students today is meeting a confluence of situations that challenge their sense of stability and promise for the future. At first, it seemed that Covid-19 was the most immediate problem, as the pandemic changed daily life, but there was a sense of community because we were all in it together. Schools and many businesses closed. We had to socially distant, wash hands regularly, and be attentive to where we had been and who was there with us. We had to stay inside, nervous about whoever came closer to us. Instead of meeting our classmates and teachers, we were seeing them on a screen.

Along with the pandemic came political and social issues, conspiracy theories, lack of trust, and fires, floods, and other results of climate change. How do we address our students in the midst of so much chaos?

At the request of a school, I worked on a plan to address middle and high school students returning in person for the first time after a year of lockdown. I presented this to the teachers, and we discussed different ways of re-engaging students who had been turned off and were lethargic after the isolation. Since then, other schools asked about the plan, and I have gone back to it and adjusted it for different situations.

At first, it was developed for a five-day orientation session before school actually started. We also saw that it could be used once a week for five weeks. It is a plan which can be redesigned in many ways.


Processing the Pandemic with Middle School or High School Students


Teachers work with their own experiences

Before addressing the students, it is important that the faculty has an opportunity to share their personal experiences during this time. What situation was their school in? Were they in distance learning the whole time? A hybrid program? In person most of the time? How did their community meet the pandemic?

In one school, I worked with the teachers focusing on their own situations before moving on to planning ways to work with the students. Teachers were dealing with their experiences of isolation, meeting the needs of their own children at home, and the constant need to change and address the latest requirement for classes in person or on screens.  In their attempt to  meet their students with positivity and joy, the teachers realized that they had suppressed their personal feelings of fear, concern, and stress, and they became emotional when they shared with their colleagues. The validation and support from their colleagues helped them gain empathy for each other and to gain strength to deal with other issues that were appearing.

Remember that it takes time to process a significant experience, and the pandemic for this generation is as traumatic as World War I was for the generation of students who populated the first Waldorf School in 1919, or World War II was for my generation.




Teachers prepare to help their students process the pandemic

The goal of the plan is to help students work with the experiences of the pandemic, gain as objective a picture as possible, express their personal feelings, gain perspective, and use artistic expression to integrate their experience and share it with the community..


The teachers need to decide a time-line for the plan, which groups would be involved, and what supplies would be needed.


Time-line with students

The suggestions are based on five full-day experiences, but they can be adapted to other time-lines such as once a week for five weeks. The more concentrated the experience is for the students, the more effective the plan is.. The day is made up of a morning of four sessions, lunch, and afternoon activities.


Teachers should anticipate the condition the students in their school are experiencing. Is this their first day back after summer, after a period of isolation? The groups can be of different sizes – the whole school, each class separately, small groups across classes, or any other arrangement the faculty chooses. An assortment of  art supplies are needed for activities which students will choose  to use either individually or in small groups.


Day  1: Overview: The pandemic- what, how, why, and who.

Teachers would make brief presentations and leave room for students to add additional ones. The older students may be more involved in making presentations. Teachers should explain the plan, emphasizing that they would work together to come to an understanding of the pandemic, acknowledging that there are many perspectives depending on the sources used.



What is a pandemic? What is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic?  A mutation? What caused the Covid-19 pandemic? Try to be as factual as possible, allowing room for students to have their own views. Acknowledge that historians are still arguing over what caused World War I or  9/11, so don’t be surprised that there are different views of what caused the Covid-19 pandemic. What did the public know at different times of the pandemic? What do we know now? How has our knowledge changed? What is a variant?



How did the virus spread? How did different countries meet the spread of the virus?  How did your community respond to the virus? How did  your family respond? How did you change your attitude toward the pandemic as time went on?



Why did the virus spread so quickly? Why did people have different views of the virus? Why did the virus become a political issue?



As far as we know, who was responsible at the beginning? How do we know that?

Who were the people who kept track and issued advice of how to meet the virus? (What is the CDC? The World Health Organization?) In your community, who advised  you what to do?

Who were the people who caught the virus and suffered from it? Were there people in your community who died from the virus? Did you know them? Did you know people who lost their jobs or changed jobs during the pandemic? Remember that each student’s experience is unique? Students experience difficult situations in their whole being – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.


Through these four topics, teachers have set out the information that everyone has heard at the same time. Although there may be disagreement, at least everyone would have listened to the same presentation.


Afternoon session

After lunch, have a choice of physical activities students can select . Examples: hiking, biking, swimming, sports, gardening, climbing, fishing. (Add whatever is possible in your community). Students should be outside and in connection with other students. This session is particularly important if the students have been learning at home for a long time. It provides an opportunity for them to be outside and socializing with each other.


Day 2: Sharing the dark side. Expressing the problems.

Show the image of the Earth from space taken in 1978. All across the planet people are experiencing the same thing. We are all in this together.


Morning session: Assure the students that there were no right or wrong ways to experience the pandemic? Some people had extreme experiences, others hardly at all. Some students preferred distance learning. This can all be oral discussion, or teachers may offer times for students to write their thoughts after discussion.

Can you remember back to the beginning of the pandemic? What challenges did you experience? As the pandemic continued, did your experience change?

What was sad during this time? Were there losses in your physical life? In  your emotional life? In your thinking? In  your spiritual or inner life? What made you feel most alone?

Were there things you wished you had done to get through this time better? Were you able to connect with your friends? What was hardest for your family during this time? What was hardest in your relationship to your school, teachers, and school work? What did you miss?

Did you talk about some of your losses to anyone? Were there times you felt afraid? Angry? Miserable? Did you feel sorry for yourself?


Did you experience loss of rituals or experiences you had counted on, such as field trips, graduation, rituals, proms, special assemblies, tournaments, sports competitions, drama productions, driver’s  licenses? How did you handle that?


Loss of friendship, getting to know a soul mate, explore intimacy – stuck at home. Loss of opportunity for finding mentors, role models to have sensitive conversations with.


What were the losses for people of your community? People of your country? People all over the world? Which losses were the most significant? Why? Was there anything you could do to help?


Suggestions: Break into classes or smaller groups. You can have small group discussion and then come together in a larger group, vice versa, or stay in the same group all the time.

Discussion is helpful as it may awaken students’ memories. Some students may not feel comfortable sharing, and this should be respected. At times it may seem as if students are complaining, whining, venting. That is part of the process. Be clear that blaming is not the same as sharing frustrations. Explain that this is step one of a process. Students need to respect that others may have experienced the pandemic differently than they did. There are no right answers. However, teachers should sense it is time to bring the conversation to a close before moving on to a new point.


Afternoon session: Have all kinds of art supplies available. Students can work alone or with others. They can draw or paint, sculpt, make a collage, write a poem or a story, create a song of musical piece, enact a scene, or make a mural demonstrating the expressions of the morning.


Day 3: The Bright Side: What positive things came out of the pandemic?

Show the image of the planet. Leave it up in front of the room. Has your school or any of the students been in contact with students in other countries?


Morning session: Review yesterday’s session. Does anyone want to add anything to what was said yesterday. You can decide to have them share their artistic expressions from yesterday or wait until all the sessions are concluded.


What positive aspects came out of the pandemic, for you personally, your family, your community, your country, the world? Were there any funny moments that occurred during this time? Were there positive things that happened that you would like to continue in your life? Were there positive experiences you would like to share with your teachers, friends, or community? Did you find positive ways to keep up  your physical activity? Were there experiences of hope or joy, even though there were restrictions? Were there any ideas, books, programs, movies, music or conversations that helped you get through the pandemic? Would you like to continue working with them? Did you have new insights about yourself, as a student, in your goals, your interests, your choice of friends?


Were you able to find times to be happy even though the situation was difficult? What kinds of things did you do to be happy?


Were you able to establish a rhythm, a routine that helped you get through the days?

Are you generally an optimistic person, and that attitude helped you? Are you more of a pessimist and have difficulty seeing the bright side? Were you able to help others during this time? How did that make you feel? Would you like to continue this?

How did you make peace with the difficulties experienced during the pandemic? Did you make new friends? Discover something about someone that was new to you?

Who were the heroes during this time? Did you learn to appreciate some people in a new way? Did you experience gratitude to any particular people or groups?


Afternoon session: Same as Day 2.  Continue working artistically.


Day 4: Gaining perspective.

What does the pandemic mean in my life, in our life?

Show the Image of the planet again. Imagine people from all over the world trying to gain perspective on the pandemic. What if you were living in a country in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, South America? Would you have had a different experience?

Review Day 3. Are there other experiences that came since yesterday’s session.


Are you able to see the roses (the good parts) as well as the thorns (the bad parts) of the pandemic? Personally, for your family, your school, your community, the world?

Were you able to find a way to value your experiences even though there were restrictions? Were there particular conversations, books, movies, ideas, music or hobbies that were helpful in your gaining perspective on the whole pandemic experience? Are you able to look back over the pandemic experience, see the losses and the gains, and put them together? How?

How do you look back now and consider some of the losses such as loss of field trips, plays, dances, graduation, rituals). Are there other ways to mark these occasions?


Afternoon session: Same as Day 3.


Day 5: Gaining Perspective: Taking a Deep Breath and Moving On.

How to find relief from the losses and show gains through the experience of the  pandemic even though it is not over.

Show the image of the Earth again, reminding students that teenagers all over the Earth are experiencing the pandemic.

Review Day 4: Were there new insights that came yesterday? What can we learn from experiencing the pandemic? What would we like to continue doing? What new appreciations came to us?

Are things or experiences we’d like to block out from the pandemic? Can you find things to do that takes your mind off some of the losses? (in family situations, loss of a dream you had to get an athletic scholarship, loss of some of the classes you had looked forward to, feeling you were a victim?)

What did you learn about yourself during this time? Are you feeling good with the way you came through the pandemic? If not, what can you change?

Were there times you escaped into movies, music, video games, YouTube to distract yourself?  Did this help? Did you find comfort in food?  Did you spend more time than you expected on your phone, texting, looking for things to do? Did you find a new hobby that became interesting? Did you find ways you could help your family or community that you would like to continue?


Can you imagine getting together with your friends in ten years and talking about the pandemic? What do you think you will focus on? How have technological changes influenced the way people experienced the virus?


Afternoon session:

Sharing the results of day 2,  3, and 4. Finishing artistic projects. Can you imagine any of the following? Having an exhibition of the projects done on Day 2, 3, and 4 to share with your community? Gathering written expressions to share through a newsletter. Making a book or video to share the work the students did in the afternoons. Emphasize that this is an historical document for future students.


Other possibilities: Watch a film about other pandemics.

The flu of 1918

The plagues during the Middle Ages- the role of conspiracy theories, how antisemitism spread because of the plague.

Compare attitudes then and now.


Love in the Time of Cholera- Marquez

Silent  film  Dr. Wise on Influenza (1919) Britain

Documentary- The Flu that Killed 50 Million 2018 TV Movie) 59 minutes.  It is  1918 and the end of WWI. Millions have died, and the world is exhausted by war. But soon a new horror is sweeping the world, a terrifying virus that will kill more than fifty million people – the Spanish  flu.