The Voices of Marathon County Students

As school districts across Wisconsin began to resume classes in the fall of 2020 in the midst of COVID-19, little was known about students’ thoughts and concerns about returning to school this fall. In an effort to fill this information gap and to give students an opportunity to convey their perspectives and suggestions to school leaders, the University of Wisconsin’s WIPPS Research Partners conducted five virtual focus groups in early August with 47 middle and high school students from a wide range of school districts in Marathon County, including Athens, Colby, D.C. Everest, Edgar, Mosinee, Newman Catholic, Wausau and Wittenberg. What the students shared in these focus groups was compelling and provided insight for school leaders statewide:

  • Students expressed considerable uncertainty, anxiety and worry about the start of the upcoming school year, underscoring the need for schools to provide them with details and specifics about plans for learning and more access to counselors and mental health support.
  • While COVID-19 safety concerns were top-of-mind, students shared greater concern about how they will learn and connect with their teachers and fellow students in meaningful ways, especially in remote or virtual settings.
  • Students want a variety of flexible choices and options, including learning on site, which was noted as a high priority for this fall.
  • Many students said a mask policy is essential and sends a signal that schools care about personal safety.
  • The potential loss of sports, clubs, band and other extracurricular activities is a significant concern; students hope schools will look for creative solutions rather than cancel these activities outright.
  • Students are frustrated with a lack of direct communication from school leaders about plans and specific details for learning this fall.

A copy of this report is available here.