Press Release

National Survey of High School Students During COVID-19 Finds Widespread Negative Impact on Learning Time, Emotional Health, Social Connection

Nearly one-third of young people report feeling unhappy or depressed; are concerned about basic needs in the past month

WASHINGTON A nationally representative survey of high school students, administered when most had been out of school for more than four weeks due to COVID-19, suggests that many students are feeling unhappy or depressed; worried about having their basic needs met; and disconnected from school, adults, and classmates.

The State of Young People During COVID-19,” from America’s Promise Alliance, analyzes the survey responses of 3,300 young people aged 13-19 to capture how they perceive the impact of school closures on their learning and their lives.

“These findings suggest that young people are experiencing collective trauma,” said Dennis Vega, the interim president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “It’s also worth noting that recent events, including the tragic killing of George Floyd, have most likely intensified the impact on young people’s wellbeing.”

Respondents were asked a series of questions about their social, emotional, and cognitive experiences across both school-based and out-of-school-time learning settings, including a set of questions related to their specific experiences since being out of school as a result of COVID-19. At the time of the survey administration, all respondents were out of school, and two-thirds of respondents had been out of school for more than four weeks.

Major findings include:

  • Nearly all of the high school youth surveyed (92%) say they are participating in online learning opportunities, but more than three-quarters (78%) are spending four or fewer hours each day in class or working on assignments.
  • Since their school buildings closed, young people’s levels of concern about the present and future have increased. For example, more than half of young people (52%) are much more concerned than usual about their own and their family’s physical and emotional health, 39% are more concerned about their current and future education, and 30% are more concerned about having their basic needs met.
  • Indicators of overall health and wellbeing have suffered. More than 1 in 4 young people report an increase in losing sleep because of worry, feeling unhappy or depressed, feeling constantly under strain, or experiencing a loss of confidence in themselves.
  • More than one-quarter of students (29%) say they do not feel connected at all to school adults. Similar percentages do not feel connected to classmates (23%) or to their school community (22%).

There are meaningful differences in disconnection across student populations, the survey found. For example, Asian students are more likely to feel disconnected from their school communities than White, Black, and Latinx students. Students in rural communities report feeling less connected to their school communities than students in cities, towns, or suburbs. Differences also occur with regards to health indicators. Asian and Latinx youth are significantly more likely to report poorer cognitive and emotional health since their schools closed than Black or White youth. Young people living in cities are 15% more likely to report poorer health than those in rural areas.

Designed and analyzed by a research team at the Center for Promise at America’s Promise Alliance, the survey was administered online by Qualtrics, a national survey platform, over a two-week period during late April and early May 2020. Respondents were evenly split across grades 9-12 and were 49% female, 50% male, and 1% non-binary. The survey is part of the How Learning Happens initiative at America’s Promise Alliance, which seeks to advance students’ social, emotional, and cognitive development through research, action in local communities, and advocacy. The research was supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, NoVo Foundation, Pure Edge, Raikes Foundation, Sanford Programs at National University System, and Wallace Foundation.

“The State of Young People During COVID-19,” is the first of a series of reports and tools on social, emotional, and cognitive development scheduled to be released by America’s Promise Alliance this summer, including a youth engagement guide that adults who work directly with young people can use to elicit their authentic feedback on their learning experiences.

“Too many young people who were already struggling are now experiencing unprecedented turmoil,” Vega said. “This moment in time could have lasting negative effects on this entire cohort of high school students—we must do all we can to provide them with immediate and ongoing support.”

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America’s Promise Alliance is the driving force behind a nationwide movement to improve the lives and futures of America’s children and youth. Bringing together national nonprofits, businesses, community and civic leaders, educators, citizens, and young people, America’s Promise leads campaigns and initiatives that spark collective action to overcome the barriers that stand in the way of young people’s success. Through these efforts, the Alliance does what no single organization alone can do: catalyze change on a scale that reaches millions of young people. The Center for Promise is the applied research institute of America’s Promise Alliance, dedicated to understanding what young people need to thrive and how to create the conditions of success for all young people. www.AmericasPromise.org.

Please see this growing list of resources that can be helpful to young people, families, and all who work with and care deeply about children and youth. In the coming months, watch for additional research from America’s Promise Alliance on the pandemic’s effects on young people, including its influence on their workforce readiness and employment.