December 31, 2020

How current events impacted students in Fall 2020

By Abby Straub

During Fall 2020, amidst the ongoing global pandemic, students of all ages navigated heightened degrees of uncertainty. Social media timelines and online notifications flooded screens with dizzying coverage of polarizing elections, deepening racial divides, intensifying environmental concerns, and an overwhelming sense of fatigue.

When The Social Institute introduced #WinAtSocial LIVE last spring, the objective was to provide students an outlet for discussing the myriad of ways that COVID-19 disrupted everyday life. Nearly one year later, #WinAtSocial LIVE expanded beyond the pandemic to help school communities process real-world issues directly impacting social-emotional health and inevitably spilling into classrooms, hallways, locker rooms, and Zoom calls.

To help address the current events’ cacophony during Fall 2020, The Social Institute produced 12 new #WinAtSocial LIVE lessons. Here are the top lessons played, along with some key things we learned.

Top 5 Most Played #Live Lessons of Fall 2020 : 

  1. Engaging in respectful discussion and debate during the election season 
  2. Evaluating the credibility of information during the election and pandemic  
  3. Processing the results of the election with a healthy mindset 
  4. Setting out entire school community up for success this fall
  5. Helping our community navigate the upcoming election season 

Students are ready to engage

Four of our top five lessons from the first semester focused on the 2020 election.

66% of middle school students responded that it’s important to talk about the election in school, while 65% of high school students said their school does not do enough to educate students about the election. We also found that over 70% of students across all grades watched at least one presidential debate. 

The willingness to engage with such a weighty topic aligns with a similar insight from Spring 2020 when nearly three-fourths of surveyed middle school and high school students said they were somewhat or very comfortable talking about racial injustice and inequity. Students want to talk about larger societal issues directly impacting their everyday lives. It seems simple, but further underscores the importance of discussing current events when addressing social-emotional learning.

Students feel set up for success

#WinAtSocial LIVE kicked off the fall semester by checking in on students and gauging how they felt entering the year.

In Setting our entire school community up for success this fall, 36% of over 3,000 surveyed students said that the most important thing for their success this fall was finding safe ways to see friends outside of school. Fostering a supportive environment in and out of the classroom proved to be a significant theme throughout the fall.

An encouraging sign for educators? The majority of students felt supported. 87% of middle school students and 76% of high school students reported that they were receiving the support they needed to succeed. 

Students recognize the importance of credible sources

Evaluating the credibility of information during the election and pandemic challenged students to think critically about how they process information during what the World Health Organization and United Nations describes as an infodemic.

Students across all grade levels agreed that citing reputable sources remains the best way to know if a story is believable. Most students – 77% in middle school and 85% in high school – said they have a reputable news source they trust.

Regarding the election, high school students, in particular, kept their guard up on social media. While most thought the most helpful tip for navigating the election was finding reliable information about the candidates’ values and positions, they also acknowledged that social media was not the best place to do it. A whopping 87% of our surveyed high school students said that they do not trust political news seen on social media. 

Maybe they aren’t always scrolling through TikTok after all!

Students foreshadow lingering effects

Social media plays an integral role in social-emotional health, and the election proved no different.

Immediately after the election, more than 70% of students agreed that social media made the election more stressful. Combine that with the fact that 87% of high school students believe people are close-minded when it comes to talking politics and more politically-charged, and social media-induced stress could surface again in 2021.

If the past is any indication, it’s something to be on the lookout for. 

Four months after the 2016 election, researchers from the University of Michigan found elevated levels of stress in young people due to the election. That’s just one of many studies magnifying the lingering effects of what many researchers dubbed post-election stress disorder.

Students offer up amazing insight, much of which can be used to set communities up for success this spring. We’re honored to continue offering #WinAtSocial LIVE to help schools navigate the intersection of current events and social-emotional learning.


About The Social Institute

The Social Institute partners with schools nationwide to empower students, parents, and educators to navigate social-emotional health, social media, and technology positively through comprehensive, gamified lessons that meet students on their level as well as. We have partnered with forward-thinking institutions across the nation, including Ravenscroft School, Gaston Day School, Miss Porter’s School, Gilman School, Woodward Academy, U.S. Olympic athletes, Duke Men’s Basketball, ESPN, and others. For more information, contact us.