Student Voice: Covid at Malden High School

As Covid cases began to rise in December, the return to school in January after the winter break seemed uncertain. To get students input on how they felt about being in school with the rise in cases, senior at Malden High School, Juliana Davidson, created a Google form and sent it to all Malden High students.  

Before creating this survey, Davidson expressed her concerns through her private Snapchat story. Her concerns were based around the return to school and the rise of Covid numbers after winter break. After doing this, she noticed that many Malden High students had the same concerns. 

In addition to finding out that Malden High students shared her concerns, her own mother had contracted the virus but was able to isolate herself quick enough to not expose Davidson. “However, my concern only grew as a result of the amount of people who could relate in our community,” Davidson stated.  “Covid numbers are escalating and it seemed like nothing was being done to effectively combat it.”  

With these concerns in her mind, Davidson, alongside seniors Gary Luo and Jason Ong, created a Google form that they sent out to students on January 1st, 2022.  This was just two days before students were to return to school on January 3rd.  “Although we wished we thought of the form earlier, we aimed to get it done anyway,” expressed Davidson.  “It took me about an hour to get the survey ready on Saturday night,” she said.  “Then, it was immediately sent out to as many MHS students as possible,” where she noted that “since we were doing this independently as students, spreading the word was difficult.”

Davidson expressed that “at first it was [created] out of frustration due to the lack of action and then it became focused on curiosity of what our peers think…We found that our peers often agreed that remote learning as an option would be best,” adding an extra emphasis to the word ‘option’.  She mentioned that “it became something larger when I began drafting emails to people in positions for creating change.”

Emails were sent to parties including the Department of Secondary Education (DESE), the Malden Education Association (MEA), the Malden High Principal, Malden’s Superintendent, Mayor Gary Christenson of Malden, the Malden City Council, the Malden School Committee and the Commissioner of Education.  

The survey was initially intended to be forwarded to students through whole class emails, but “[the senior class] was the only whole class email that successfully went through.” She explained that  “we weren’t able to email large groups of people such as the Class of 2023 for some reason. We were shocked to see that our attempt to email the whole senior class went through. We then opted to spread the message through social media.”

With only four questions in the survey, a few enlisted curious responses. Davidson noted that “the variety of responses indicated that communication on this topic wasn’t as simple as hoped.”   

The last question in particular asked if students planned on testing using the rapid test that was given to them before break. This question only had 2 options for answers: a “yes” option and an “other” option where students were allowed to type in their own responses. These responses varied from “I don’t have one” to “It seems like a hassle” and an abundance of variations in between.  

Davidson along with other Malden High representatives, including the majority of the senior student council, met with Senator Jason Lewis on Friday, January 8th. This meeting was in regards to what action could be taken at the moment to solve the ongoing problem.  “We [hoped] to present the idea of having remote learning become an option for all Massachusetts students and families,” said Davidson.

A lot of attention has been brought to this student survey, and Davidson is not surprised by that. “I’ve worked incredibly hard to reach people in positions of power. I’ve been emailing back and forth with so many people since that Sunday morning,” mentioned Davidson. As of Thursday, January 7th Davidson had been emailing back and forth with people for five days and had exchanged over 125 emails. She noted that “one of my main methods of doing this is to find the easiest person to contact, then request them to pass the message along or send me the email addresses of the respected people.”  Using this method she was able to go from Malden High Principal Christopher Mastrangelo all the way to the Commissioner of Education, the DESE and Senator Lewis.  

“The work behind this is extremely important and hard to maintain, but is showing some sort of work,” added Davidson. She continued on saying that “I’m joyful to see how many students are speaking out on this issue and discussing the benefits and consequences of every option possible... I’m appreciative to be in a place where I can hear student voices and then work towards creating actions that follow what our students need and want” in regards to the students participation in the survey.  

Noelle Hayes, a junior at Malden High, helped to promote this student voice project alongside Davidson. Hayes mentioned that even though she wasn’t involved in the making of the project she thinks that “it’s very important to hear students’ voices.” She continued, “especially when it comes to our physical health and well-being.” Hayes was “really shocked by the amount of people who had Covid or knew someone who had Covid.” She elaborated on her shock stating “it’s scary to think so many people in this school are at risk.”

Hayes spoke out about her personal beliefs about school being in-person versus remote, stating “personally, I’d rather be remote or hybrid for the month of January because I have family at high risk.” She further went on to say “I also think that being online for a few weeks could be beneficial for students who don’t feel safe either, or maybe even just need a break from a social setting like school.” While she may have her own beliefs, Hayes ultimately thinks “all students should have a choice about [whether they want to be in-person, hybrid or remote] though.” 

MHS alumni, Billy Zeng, to was among some of the students who went and spoke to the Senator about this current issue.  Zeng’s initial involvement came from Boston Latin students reaching out to him for contacts to Malden High students. He noted that he has “been able to make the connection and see how Greater Boston students can collaborate together to make themselves heard.”  

While Zeng may no longer be a student at Malden High, he is still being affected by the student voices being heard. “My brother is a current high school freshman, and this affects me because if he were to somehow get Covid, then I would have a higher chance of testing positive.” Therefore, “as a community member, the decision to keep schools open affects me at-large because many high school students are very active in the community and can spread Covid in that capacity as well,” stated Zeng. 

 To Zeng, this is not a project that “gets started and finished.” He elaborated by mentioning that “this student survey that [Davidson] produced and disseminated was a direct result of students not feeling safe to learn comfortably in physical school environments with the current surge of the omicron variant.” Zeng expressed that “I wanted to make sure that the community had the backs of our students and that the students felt supported enough and had the resources they needed to advocate for their wellbeing.”

Zeng, who is currently enrolled at Tufts University, mentioned that colleges in the Boston area for the majority of the semester are planning on going in-person.  While there are currently no plans for that to change, Zeng stated that “personally, I am an advocate for schools going remote for the time being.”  He went on to further  state that “remote learning is not an ideal solution to the pandemic, but I] believe  that remote learning will allow students to feel safe and not have to worry about contracting the virus.” Zeng also believes that remote learning can help “alleviate the stress and pressure that school nurses and educators are feeling.”

Zeng's biggest surprise was “how Malden has become part of the statewide list that is most affected by Covid.” Another surprise for Zeng was the vast amount of absences. “I am shocked that so many students and staff are out on a daily basis,” he stated.  He was not surprised, however, at the state response to the variant. He mentioned how DESE and“the big decision makers are not listening to the experiences of the students and educators right now.” 

Whether the student be in elementary school, college or in any level of education, the recurring issue of Covid is a shared one among the student body.  As more students take a stand and share their voices on the issue at hand, more recognition of the problem is brought. The issue currently has no resolution, but the efforts to bring awareness to the problem have not been resolved either.  

To view the results of the survey, click here

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