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After A More Than A Year At Home, Students' Social Skills May Need Work

NOEL KING, HOST:

For many American school kids, this week is their first time inside of a classroom in a year and a half because of the pandemic. How are they feeling about that? Colorado Public Radio's Jenny Brundin asked some of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN)

JENNY BRUNDIN, BYLINE: Seventeen-year-old Anoushka Jani is excited to go back to school. She's been isolated for almost a year and a half.

ANOUSHKA: So I was in my room my entire school year, like seven hours a day in front of a screen in my room. It's dark in the winter. It's cold. It's lonely.

BRUNDIN: Depression and anxiety in her and her friends crept up, but she pushed forward. She played her violin more, even running to the nearest Dunkin Donuts for a coffee or a bike ride helped. She wants to work on her social skills this year. She says many teens feel stunted. She was 16, a sophomore, when the pandemic started. Now she's suddenly a senior.

ANOUSHKA: I turn 18 in two months, and that's also really scary because I've spent my entire 17th year in isolation, primarily. And I'm almost an adult, and I don't know how to adjust properly yet.

BRUNDIN: She knows she'll get there, but now she's nervous about the delta variant.

(CROSSTALK)

BRUNDIN: Thirteen-year-old Madeus Frandina says wearing masks will help schools stay in person. He just switched schools after the one he was enrolled in announced that masks were optional.

MADEUS: I, for one, do not want to be quarantined every other week and be stuck at home doing online. I'm kind of done with that.

BRUNDIN: Madeus doesn't get adults arguing over masks or whether to get a vaccine, but he's learned why some Black Americans might be skeptical of science and doctors.

MADEUS: I could understand why some people - like people of color, for example - might be hesitant to get the vaccine, and I understand that. But like some people, primarily white people, I feel like we could do a better job of just, like, accepting science and not doubting it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hi, Codi. How was school?

BRUNDIN: Fifteen-year-old Codi Mendenhall has already been in school for a few weeks.

CODI: My first week was craziness.

BRUNDIN: Codi has cerebral palsy. She speaks through a communication device. More recently, she's had epilepsy and fatigue. She couldn't make it through the whole day that first week. But vaccinated and wearing a mask, she feels good about what's to come.

CODI: I want to get good grades and hang out with friends. I missed everybody.

BRUNDIN: Kids I talked to are desperate to stay in school to be around friends. Incoming seventh-grader Xaveon Miller hasn't been inside a school since fifth grade. Online, well...

XAVEON: It didn't really feel normal to me.

BRUNDIN: Still, he got straight A's last year and hopes to continue that streak. I ask him how he feels about masks.

XAVEON: I feel nonchalant about it.

BRUNDIN: Ten-year-old Clarissa Coleman is excited to make friends and to learn all her times tables and division. I ask if she's worried about anything.

CLARISSA: Well...

BRUNDIN: She tilts her braided, blue-hair banded head back to think.

CLARISSA: ...Not really.

BRUNDIN: Clarissa finally confesses she's worried about whether there'll be a crossing guard when she walks home. But she thinks she'll be less distracted in school.

CLARISSA: I don't think they have TVs in school.

BRUNDIN: (Laughter).

Plus online, Clarissa didn't like it when her internet was down. Teachers sometimes got frustrated. But the main reason school is better in person?

CLARISSA: Because the teacher's sound won't go out because she's not a computer.

BRUNDIN: Kids always tell it like it is.

For NPR News, I'm Jenny Brundin.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEEN DAZE'S "BY LOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.