A New Normal: Students Share Perspectives on Education During COVID

By PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs

'Our New Normal' Teen Co-Hosts Explain What School Life Looks Like Today

Kate Nakamura, a junior at Kaua’i High School in Hawaii, and Terry Jones Jr., a first-year college student in Alabama, are working with PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs on a new digital storytelling event about how middle and high school students are coming of age during a pandemic. Together, they are hosting, “Our New Normal: How Teens Are Redefining School Life,” with PBS NewsHour’s Amna Nawaz. The one-hour program explores – from students’ perspectives – how the’re grappling with the ongoing waves of changes in America, and finding their voice in the process. 

Ahead of the program’s premiere on Jan. 25, we asked Kate and Terry how their lives have changed and what their “new normal” looks like. 

Student Reporting Labs: What does your new normal look like at school? What should a national audience know about you?

Kate Nakamura: My new normal at school honestly felt a bit weird at first, but now that I am almost five months into this school year, it has become routine. Wearing face masks, constantly washing my hands and sanitizing common areas have definitely become staple parts of my school day. What I want a national audience to know about me is that I love telling stories. I am very excited and grateful to be able to work on the Our New Normal special!

Terry Jones Jr.: Making a transition from high school to college is already a type of new normal all on its own. Now, to be going to college in a pandemic just adds to the abnormality. I actually take mostly online classes, so I don’t have to worry about having too much contact with people. I only attend one class in person. Since there are many others who are doing online school, I usually don’t see many students on campus. I have noticed that this has created a disconnect among the student body.

SRL: Paint us a picture of your social life in school. How has it been changed by the pandemic?

KN: During the pandemic, a lot of my friend groups did not stay together because we weren’t able to see each other in person. So, I feel so grateful that I have been able to reconnect with a few old friends this school year. We’ve been able to hang out at school and I’ve really enjoyed that.

TJ: Since there are many students doing online school, I don’t see a lot of people when I go to school. There are many college events that end up being canceled due to the pandemic. We are constantly social distancing and wearing masks and doing temperature checks. COVID also makes me very cautious about who I talk to, because you can never be too sure about who has contracted the virus. However, I have been involved in clubs and organizations that help make up for the lack of socializing. I participate in the art club and I am also an ambassador, so it is nice to have some type of connection and communication with my peers.

SRL: What do you think adults should know about being a teenager during this historic time?

KN: I think adults should know that not being able to have a normal high school experience has been disappointing. On Kauaʻi, student athletes missed out on a full year of sports and students missed out on a full year of student activities. Also, how scary it is to go back to school when there are high numbers of COVID. There are protocols in place, but we are fully back in classrooms sitting right next to each other. For me personally, it has been a bit scary. There isn’t any specific advice I’d give, but I would just ask adults to keep this in mind. 

TJ: I think adults should know that this is a very weird time for students to get an education. I myself have to say that I am very grateful to have supportive parents. The advice I would give would be for parents to sympathize and understand that we as young people are really just trying to make sense of this new normal and transition into young adults at the same time, which can be a little more difficult than people may think.

Kate and Terry host Student Reporting Labs' Our New Normal: How Teens are Redefining School Life, premiering Jan. 25 at 7p ET on YouTube and Feb. 9 on WORLD Channel.

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