WATCH: 'KNX News Town Hall: A Generation Lost'

LOS ANGELES (KNX) - Three years since the world changed, there are still so many questions about how it changed us. On Wednesday, KNX News explored the unseen impacts of the pandemic in a special Town Hall presentation: A Generation Lost, presented by CalHOPE.

In March 2020, students received the news schools would be shutting down.

“We all thought, ‘yay, it’s a couple weeks off school,’” Alex Bielanski, a 17-year-old senior at the California School of the Arts in the San Gabriel Valley said, comparing it to a snow day. “But once we realized how long it was gonna be, that started to settle in.”

The COVID-19 pandemic shifted how students would learn, trading classrooms for Zoom classes, which for some students brought new challenged.

“I know some students didn’t have that motivation to open up their computer and get on the Zoom…I know some people slept through their classes,” Montserrat Hidalgo, a 16-year-old junior at South Gate High School, explained. “But for me, it was the push from my parents to be like, ‘I mean, c’mon, this is something that we’re gonna have to get normal about.’”

Sarah Mian, a 16-year-old junior at Chatsworth Charter High School, said the resources her school provided helped make the transition a little smoother.

“My school was able to provide hotspots and laptops for students who needed it, and since everything was virtual I felt like that helped a lot,” she said. “We adapted to being virtual, to being online.”

For Bielanski, they said their arts school was able to adapt well, but the pandemic brought challenges both academically and personally.

“I remember having my first panic attack was right when the pandemic began ‘cause my grandmother was supposed to come over from Atlanta and we didn’t want her to come ‘cause, obviously COVID,” they recalled.

“And then the shows we were having got cancelled and I couldn’t handle it all and I had my first panic attack. Then there were multiple panic attacks after that and after that and that led to a hospitalization so it was big, big struggle for me and my mental health…”

Hildago, on the other hand, struggled with the transition back to the classroom.

“I know at the beginning, coming right out of COVID, I was anxious, you know, being around people and even with the mask, still being very anxiety inducing having to think about like, ‘Oh, well what if I do get sick? What will happen when I do?’ ‘cause eventually everyone did end up getting sick,” she said.

Mian said created a fixed schedule for herself to find structure in a new normal.

“I found that once I had a fixed schedule, like fixed for the most part, I was able to find a new normal and adapt and cope with this,” she said.

As the panel transitioned from student experts to professional-experts, the conversation shifted to another angle- how to dig out of the hole we find ourselves.

While most of the panel of experts agree that there is plenty of fallout from the pandemic - because of student resiliency and the benefit of hindsight – the panel remained cautiously optimistic about the future.

Jill Baker, superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District, said while closing the schools has had a considerable impact, it was the right thing to do, given the information we had at the time.

Now, Baker says it's all about working to "catch students up in very strategic ways," citing her district's use of government funding to implement a learning and acceleration support plan.

Gary Clark, the director of undergraduate admissions at UCLA, believes that despite the burden students carried during education through the pandemic, they are still prepared for college. In some ways, they may be more engaged, have higher expectations of their educators, and therefore are more demanding concerning their needs than before.

The significant concerns Clark is seeing as an admissions director relate to mental health and socialization issues. He believes colleges and universities should work to accommodate those challenges and destigmatize mental health issues.

Chito Cajayon, dean of the business department at Los Angeles Trade Tech College, says when it comes to work - adaptability is key. He added that employers are looking for proof of experience, often more so than education.

One of the most significant things he said he teaches his students is "you have to prove who you worked for, what you've done, and where you've done it."

Sean Reardon, a professor of poverty & inequality in education at Stanford University, has mixed feeling about the future.

While he is optimistic about the amount of attention that is now being placed on education by policymakers due to the pandemic fallout, he is pessimistic about the lack of attention on the educational inequality that has grown wider as a result

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