A year later: Mental toll of pandemic for students, teachers continues to mount


Olivia Hayner

Jan. 21, 2021 – History teacher Mr.Russell Lang sits behind his desk as a plastic curtain separates him from the rest of his students during the first week of hybrid learning.

James Schaffer and Matthew Avila

As school continues to be virtual for most students, many have felt the stress and isolation that comes with online learning, something that has not exactly been welcomed by the senior class.

Hybrid instruction began on Jan. 18 with just over one hundred students returning to campus for face-to-face learning.

Christina Acosta, captain of the Air Rifle and Armed Drill teams of EPHS’ JROTC, said improvements can’t be made. 

“It’s the worst way to teach people,” Christina said. “Teachers aren’t keeping up and students feel in the dark.”

It’s an important year for seniors across the country. Many are making plans to attend university upon graduation. However, the murky situation with school and the virus is providing difficult for some. 

Christina is making strides to attend the West Point U.S. Military Academy.

“I’m trying to get accepted into West Point via Air Rifle and it’s hard to show my skills when I can’t practice,” she added.

Students have a preference in which way they learn as many chose to remain online, Jose Rangel, a senior attending Center for Career and Technology Education (CCTE) Ethical Hacking course, learns best by doing things hands-on. 

“Personally, I learn better in-person than I do virtual,” Jose said. “I can’t perform as good as I could when in class and also I can’t learn hands-on stuff like computer maintenance and ethical hacking.”

Senior Jose Rangel is one of many students missing the hands on learning experience not able to be duplicated with online classes. Courtesy of Jose Rangel


Jose said he’s upset because he wanted his senior year to be the one year he looks back on. He hopes that students may go back soon, although he understands the weight of the situation, and wants to keep others safe. 

Christina shared strong feelings about going back to school, and the effects virtual classes has on mental health. 

“Online school has been bad for everyone’s mental health. Isolation is crippling. Even if the school keeps putting out ‘don’t be afraid to ask for help’ vibes, it doesn’t do anything if the teachers are isolating themselves from students,” Christina said. “Teachers are pretty much just throwing a grenade of homework, expecting us to do it without their help, then are surprised that we are failing.”

It is unclear when students will go back to in-person instruction at 100 percent capacity, with vaccinations underway, the El Paso Independent School District is relying on guidelines set by the CDC to decide on the future re-opening plans. 

“I know it’s necessary to keep safe but I’m honestly losing my mind with each passing day. I just want to go back to school,” Christina adds.

Despite schools going back to hybrid learning, not all staff was in position to return immediately due to higher risk of infection if they have underlying conditions as was the case for English teacher, Ms. Cristina Rubio.

“For the teachers who are going back, I feel that they should be able to have a better sense of what‘s going to happen,” Ms. Rubio said. “I know it’s not the district, they’re doing everything they can to keep us safe and so is the country, but it’s really the state who is dictating what is going on in El Paso.” 

Math teacher, Mr. Jesus Loya said there’s an opportunity for a positive outcome from online learning for seniors.

“It might sound like a bad thing that seniors are at home learning on their own, but I do think this is going to set them up for college…If students are surviving and doing well during this online learning experience, I think they’re definitely going to thrive in college.”