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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

'I just want to be a kid': Two North Texas students on how COVID-19 changed their school experience

Student Eleanor Lockhart is in a grey sweatshirt, her notebook open with a blue water bottle on a light, wooden desk. Behind her in the classroom are equations and writing on a whiteboard.
Eleanor Lockhart
Eleanor Lockhart is graduating high school in 2022, hoping to study biochemistry in college. "What's been my ideal job for a few years is half-clinical, half-lab oncology," she said.

Since the 2021 school year, nearly 550,000 students have contracted COVID-19 across Texas. From district-wide conflicts about mask mandates to virtual schooling, students have experienced widespread change and lost out on many routines and traditions.

Dallas high school students Nate Stitt and Eleanor Lockhart both remember the beginning of the pandemic, which hit during their spring breaks in March 2020. Everything changed overnight.

"We had to take all of our stuff home from school," Lockhart said. "I was just sitting with my books, trying to figure out Zoom school. It was miserable."

Lockhart said the beginning of virtual school was "disorganized," but Stitt said as time passed they really cherished being online. They were attending virtual school until February 2021, and then went to a hybrid model afterwards.

"The reason that I thrived online was mostly because I had the time to myself," Stitt said. "For example, if I just needed a night of rest, I would go to bed at 6 p.m. and then wake up at 4 a.m. and do whatever I needed. I know it sounds crazy, and it kind of was crazy, but that worked well for me."

Both said the pandemic and the isolation from the pandemic forced them to grow, as people and friends.

"It's shown me who I really care about, and who really cared about me," Lockhart said. "I'm sometimes an anxious person, so being able to know my friends really care about me has given me a lot of confidence in my relationships. It feels good to be liked, which is such a teenager thing to experience. [During the pandemic,] it was [a] teenager 'Breakfast Club' moment on steroids though, sitting in my room, texting all my friends."

A sunny, exterior shot of a school, covered in trees.
Nate Stitt
Nate Stitt said the pandemic has helped them feel closer to their teachers. "I used to write my English teacher super-long emails about how everything was going in my life, and that was an outlet for me that was super-helpful at the time," Stitt said.

Stitt said they noticed it took them a while to regain their social skills.

"Me as a 15-year-old is so different than me as a 17-year-old," they said. "I don't want to interact with people the same way I did at 15. I had to relearn that. Without two years of solid social interaction, I lost the growth that needed to happen for me."

Stitt is finishing up their junior year of high school at Greenhill, and Lockhart is a senior at Hockaday, two Dallas-area private schools. Both students acknowledged how much change 2022 could still bring.

"I think a lot of people are really tired," Stitt said. "For a lot of us, we're going to have to take breaks, and go to sleep at 6 p.m. when we get home from school, and that's perfectly okay, because we can take the time we need to. I feel like that's almost a necessity after this pandemic."

Lockhart is heading to college to study biochemistry, and is looking forward to graduating in the spring.

"I'm excited to get up and out," she said. "I pray and hope more than anything that my freshman year of college is normal. That's pretty much all I want right now. I just want to be a kid."

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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Elena Rivera is the health reporter at KERA. Before moving to Dallas, Elena covered health in Southern Colorado for KRCC and Colorado Public Radio. Her stories covered pandemic mental health support, rural community health access issues and vaccine equity across the region.