A year of virtual learning as a high school student: How COVID-19 got teens thinking about politics

As part of their Report for America service project, corps members and staff reporters Abbey Marshall and H.L. Comeriato worked with an Ellet Community Learning Center news writing class, taught by Emily Lees, to help students write narrative pieces about their lives as high school students during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are student dispatches from various points of the previous school year.

by Sebastian Shumate

Before the presidential election, my dad and I would sit on the couch watching the news, and inevitably, COVID-19 updates would pop up at the bottom of the screen. 

Over the last year, news coverage has focused on two things: COVID and national politics. If you use a social media platform, have a TV or talk to family or friends, then you have likely heard how much COVID and politics are intertwined. COVID is one of the biggest problems that the U.S. has ever faced, and it has changed life for teens across the country, from distance learning and limited interaction with friends and family, to the way young people think about national politics in their own lives. 

Some Americans have chosen to accept the reality of the virus, while others have not. Some people choose not to wear a mask, social distance, or practice basic hand sanitizing. Lawmakers have played such a big role in how Americans are dealing with COVID, and as a result, teens are becoming more aware of politics on a national scale.

I talked to a few people who have also been following current events to find out how national politics have influenced the way they deal with the pandemic. 

My dad, James Shumate, has been more involved in politics than I am. “My decision was almost set in stone, but I wanted to see how these candidates handled the virus and what they were going to do with it,” he said in regards to voting for president. 

Adults aren’t the only ones interested in politics. Many teens are very proactive and have strong opinions on this matter. Everyone has a voice, and now more than ever teens have been strongly interested in having theirs heard.

For example, I cannot vote yet, but I have been more involved and focused on politics than ever before. Maybe it comes with age, but I do not think that is the case. Things felt different in 2020, anda president  should be able to handle a national pandemic accordingly and safely. I believe we cannot keep denying the numbers of cases and deaths, and that something has to be done. 

Between February 2020 and May 2020, there were more than 38,000 cases and more than 900 deaths in Summit County. 541,013 people live in Summit County. If you compare this to 2019, a total of 83 people died in Summit County. The numbers went up drastically from pre-COVID days.

But my opinion alone isn’t going to cut it, so I asked people my own age what they think about the connection between COVID and national politics. I asked my friend, Jagger Cook, if his response to COVID was influenced by the political candidates he supports. “At first it did,” Cook said. “Then I looked at the numbers and I realized that [President Trump] was an idiot.”

“No, I didn’t treat COVID [differently] based on who I support,” my other friend Trevor Ingham said. “My family is Republican but we didn’t treat COVID any differently than a Democratic family would’ve. We wore our masks and followed the regulations given by the government.”

In my opinion, I think things are going to change. We have elected a new president, Joe Biden, who has different ideas and a different plan to try and stop the spread of COVID-19. However, how is this going to shape us? This is how a lot of kids are growing up now, so will this have a long lasting effect? Will this situation change how teens see politics and will they stay more involved?

The future may be full of questions, but for now, we can try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wear your mask and stay safe!

Sebastian Shumate is a student at Ellet Community Learning Center. This piece was published as part of a collaborative project between Report for America corps members Abbey Marshall and H.L. Comeriato and Ellet CLC’s news writing class taught by Emily Lees.