How well did Latin students social distance this summer?

Results of a survey conducted by The Forum.

Results of a survey conducted by The Forum.

Results of a survey conducted by The Forum.

Eden Raviv, News Editor

As recently announced by Head of School Randall Dunn, undoubtedly to the dismay of many Upper School students, the high school will operate remotely for the first semester of the 2020-2021 academic year. While logistical reasons likely drove the failure to implement an in-person learning plan for grades 9-12, patterns of socialization among teenagers may also complicate a safe return to school. 

A survey conducted by The Forum sought to understand how Latin Upper School students socialize in the midst of a pandemic. The survey found that 64% of Upper School students have been asked by their parents to refrain from meeting in groups larger than six people. Still, 49.6% of respondents shared that they have in fact met in groups of six or more. Latin board member, parent, and medical advisory group member Dr. Jyoti Patel was not disappointed by these numbers, explaining that there is a safe way to engage in social interactions without the use of masks. “I would imagine that most people have met in groups bigger than six because it might be two other families for example,” she said. “I would also say, it’s really who those six people are. If there are six people that have your world view about social distancing and where they’ve been, it’s very different than even two people who’ve been out and about.”

Despite some worrisome responses alluding to negligence of safety precautions, a number of Latin students have been diligent in their attempts to mitigate disease spread. Rising senior Henry Coleman shared how his family followed safety guidelines while traveling. “While we were on our trip, we tried our best to follow best practices regarding social distancing and masks. We wore masks almost all of the time we were outside and especially when we were in proximity to other people.”  Similarly, Lucy Norris, a rising junior, also made sure to distance, particularly while moving through airports. “My family and I wore masks from the second we entered the airport until we exited the next airport, unless we were drinking and eating which we did very fast,” she said. “We made sure to only sit next to each other on the flights and to wipe down our seats when we got there.”  Although traveling exposes families to many people and enclosed spaces, some students still have done their best to protect themselves and the people around them.

While everyone has taken some measures to limit social interactions, many of Latin’s students have been doing an exceptional job of physically distancing. One example is rising senior Randy Pierre. “What really motivated me to social distance was my family,” Randy shared. “I live with family members who are immunocompromised or have diabetes, which makes COVID symptoms more severe,” he said. “While at the same time my mother is a nurse who works with newborn children, so it’s not really for my own personal health but more for the safety of my family and those around them.” Randy has been able to connect virtually with friends and work from home, but, he shared, “I’ve actually taken this time to spend a lot more time with my family because we’re home a lot more often. So I wouldn’t exactly say I missed out on my summer but I would say I took this summer for myself.” Randy explained that it can be difficult to watch friends disregard distancing measures while he has devoted his summer to maintaining the health of those around him. “I can understand why some of my peers want to hang out with their friends and not social distance or wear masks,” he said, “but it can be a little frustrating. A lot of times I realize that they might be fine if they catch COVID but sometimes it’s not about yourself but those who you come in contact with.”  While Dr. Patel believes students like Randy can be rightfully upset, she said, “I worry about that because that’s a little bit more division than we need right now.”*

Nevertheless, Dr. Patel did share concerns regarding some behaviors. 42.4% of students surveyed shared that they have eaten in an indoor restaurant, and given that this practice is impossible with a mask, Dr. Patel considers this to be “a pretty high number.” 71.2% of respondents have entered a friend or family member’s home without a mask, but analogous to large unmasked gatherings, there are many different ways that can look. “Maybe I would clarify, is it one family that has been in your pod all along, or is it a grandparent?” Dr. Patel noted, explaining that such interactions may be conducted responsibly. “I think there are a lot of permutations, but that is a pretty high number.”  

Before it was made public that Latin’s Upper School would not be returning in person this fall, 60.7% of surveyed students responded that they would be distancing more as school approached. Although high school students will not be attending school themselves, there are still reasons to increase distancing over the coming weeks. “My youngest sister Clare will be allowed to go to school every day, which will affect the way I have been social distancing,” said rising sophomore, Ainsley Heaton. “My family will need to only partake in small group gatherings with just a few people. We will also need to be extra cautious when we are in public and limit things like going out to eat.” 

Moreover, both Henry and Lucy also said that they will continue to distance through the fall. Evidently, this is a shared sentiment, as over 65% of students who responded to the survey after hearing that school would not return, shared that they will be distancing more as Latin commences classes. In other words, the change of high school venue did not seem to affect students’ plans for physical distancing.

In part, the decision for Upper School students to be excluded from in-person learning at Latin did have to do with the social patterns of teenagers. Dr. Patel explained, “I think high school students are more independent. What [they] do inside of school and outside of school, we have a little bit less control on.” Dr. Patel hopes that with increased social distancing, the Upper School will soon be able to return in person. “I think we have an opportunity right now,” she said, “to change our course as a community and to really think about not only how we take care of our families, but the entire community as well as the city we live in… and to be mindful … about our interactions and intentional about everything we do, which is a lot of stress and weight I think on people that are learning independence and trying to spread their wings.”

There was, however, one facet of the survey results that reflected positively across nearly all Latin students: 94.4% of respondents said they feel a responsibility to help protect their teachers and the parents of their friends. 

Now that they won’t be together in school, Dr. Patel does think that there are some students who will decide to see more friends and distance less. “But again,” she said, “we think about our greater community and how we are taking care of all of those around us, I hope that’s not the majority. I hope we remember who we are as a Latin community and really embrace that greater good.”

*Dr. Patel was not directly responding to Randy Pierre’s situation. Her full quotation: “My sense is that there are probably two camps of kids. There is a group of kids that are very mindful and are really taking our advice close to heart. And then I think there is perhaps a group of individuals that’s a little bit more cavalier about it, I don’t think there’s that many people in between. I think we’ve made this such a moral argument and social argument and it’s sort of where your family stands, and it’s one of those things unfortunately that has gotten more polarized. It’s another sort of polarization of our society. I think about it even in terms of moral judgment on each other. That’s a crowd that is distancing and people in that crowd really look at their friends and community members who don’t distance i think with a lot of disdain. I worry about that because that’s a little bit more division then we need right now.”