Teen discovers new skill during pandemic

Research project takes peek into lives of teens - many Hinsdaleans - during quarantine

Series: Flattening the curve | Story 13

Like most people, Isabella Xu was finding it hard to escape the constant flow of news, headlines and updates regarding the spread of COVID-19. But despite the 24-7 onslaught of information, Xu could find very little about how the pandemic, the abrupt end to the traditional school year and the sudden need to stay at home was affecting people her age.

Rather than sit and wonder, the soon-to-be Hinsdale Central sophomore took it upon herself to initiate a research project to gauge how quarantine was affecting her peers. She designed a survey of about 50 questions and sent it out via email and social media. The questions included in Xu's Pivot Project questionnaire were designed to gauge the effects of online learning on education, as well as the effects of quarantine on students' physical and mental wellness.

While most of the 109 respondents were classmates residing in and around Hinsdale, answers came from teens in Chicago and several other suburbs, as well.

Some of the results surprised Xu, who found that 53 percent of respondents felt they were benefiting from additional time with family.

"Teens really enjoyed spending time with their families," said Xu, who counts herself among that 53 percent.

The same number of respondents reported learning new skills as they spent more time at home. That's something else that Xu can relate to. While some of her peers mentioned learning to sew or picking up new skateboarding skills, Xu has spent time during quarantine learning to make and edit videos, and of course, conduct research projects.

This was a first for Xu, who shared her findings with the Hinsdale High District 86 Board and the district's re-entry committee. She also offered results of her study to The Community House, where she sits on the junior board, and the Morton Arboretum Youth Volunteer Program, in which she also participates. She said all seemed pleased with the additional insight into how COVID-19 is affecting teen-agers.

Along with these local entities, Xu forwarded her work to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Chair at Penn State University, where researchers are conducting a similar project, but on a much larger scale, Xu said.

Program leaders invited Xu to participate in their more global study by serving as a leader of a research team. She said she will receive a specific subtopic of life during quarantine to explore.

"The whole process was interesting," Xu said of her foray into sociological research.

While allowing her to better understand her friends and peers, Xu said her survey also offered a clearer picture of how quarantine has affected her and how she responds to online learning. Like 87 percent of those who took her survey, Xu said she learns more in the classroom than online.

But that's something that might not change anytime soon.

Given the option, Xu said she will learn remotely next semester. With three generations sharing her home, Xu said she will do all she can to protect her grandparents and parents from becoming ill.

Meanwhile, like a vast majority of her peers, Xu misses her friends.

"It's a confusing time," she said of the constant struggle between wanting things to be normal and wanting to be safe.

Xu said she hopes the schools will use the information she gathered to consider online adaptations to the curriculum that will allow students more opportunities to engage with one another, socially and academically.

As quarantine wears on, Xu said she likely will find more topics to research.

"It's interesting to discover new things," she said.

And she's learned that she doesn't require a classroom to do it.

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean