The upheaval and anxiety caused by the 2020 pandemic has impacted students’ lives more than we can imagine. Across the globe more than 1.5 billion students or more than 90 percent of the world’s learners are now out of school due to school closures in 190 countries.

With an unprecedented nine out of ten students worldwide out of school due to COVID-19 [i] it is more important than ever to focus on the learners.

As a mission-driven organization, Cognia™ focuses on improving educational opportunities for all students and advocates for student-centered learning. We hosted a virtual panel to gives us, the adults, an opportunity to hear firsthand from students about how their lives have changed—how they feel about learning from home, missing school events, and being separated from their friends. Coming from the United States, South America, Europe, and the Middle East, eight panelists were high schoolers, and one was a middle school student.  Schooled: Students Speak Up! Was moderated by Cognia’s president and CEO, Dr. Mark A. Elgart, and it was our first live global student panel. This was an opportunity to hear directly from students, a first for us, as they shared personal reflections and advice for education leaders.

You can view a recording of the webinar to hear what it is like to be a high school student during this time when the school experience—perhap their senior year—has been forever changed.

What Have Students Learned About Themselves?

Students overall remarked that they were surprised by some of their own reflections. Some students talked about how they were not as accepting of change or as organized as they thought they were. Students showed mature self-awareness as they described  how they are processing their emotions. They bravely offered insights into their own lives, but also expressed gratitude and empathy for their teachers’ personal well-being.

Ana Ruvalcaba, a senior in Kentucky, USA, revealed that she is learning what she really enjoys doing as opposed to what she was doing for others.

So Did Zachary Boston. “I’ve discovered what I actually like to do, what I need to do to make me happy,” said Zachary, a senior in Maine. “Obviously, being in quarantine and self-isolation, you’re not able to experience all those superficial things. And there’s no pressure—if I were to go to regular school, there’s pressure from teachers and administrators. And I was pretty spread out. I do a lot of sports, school, a lot of clubs,” he explained.

“But when you’re at home, there’s not all that pressure and you’re able to do what you want to do,” Zachary continued. “And so you really find out what you want to pursue in life, and I appreciate that, actually, because I’m trying to figure out what I want to do in life and what I actually love to do rather than spreading myself out.”

Several students applied lessons from their personal experience to advice for world leaders. They spoke about their difficulty in adjusting to change and struggling with a lack of routine, having feelings of anxiety and tackling fear. Kennedi Chadwick, a 10th grader from Miami, USA and a self-described introvert, has felt at peace in this time, but admits that she needs to do better about time management.

“I’ve learned two big things. First of all, I learned that I’m a true introvert. Staying home, being myself and around my family, I’m feeling at peace, honestly, and I didn’t really expect that. I thought I was going to dread doing this whole isolation thing. So that was a pleasant thing to learn about myself.”

“And something else is I’m a big procrastinator. And so in order to do well in these online classes I need to—for the rest of my life—do better with time management,” she added.

Ana’s self-reflection led to a recognition that she took for granted the time she had before the pandemic, but now she is enjoying her time with her family.

What was the one thing all students had in common? They all want to go back to school or off to college, and they have concrete suggestions for how leaders can “do school differently” in the future.

If we listen closely, these students’ advice may lead us toward meaningful change in how we think about education—in both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances. View the virtual student panel discussion in its entirety here.


Read Student Speak Up! Part II: What Students Want Us to Know


[i] According to UNESCO estimates. Source

Vicki Denmark, Ph.D.
Dr. Vicki Denmark previously served as the Chief Architect at Cognia. Dr. Denmark oversaw the design and development of solutions and resources for educational institutions to improve organizationally and most importantly, for students. She served as the subject matter expert for products, content, and solutions and identifies new opportunities that lead to innovative solutions for institutions. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from Georgia State University.