Back-To-School Flip-Flop: Mental Health Effects Of Pandemic Surface In Search Queries

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which reported 135 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, including 130 students, will shift all undergraduate fall courses to remote instruction.

As schools flip-flop re-opening plans that continue to stress out students and parents, the mental health effects of the pandemic and the return to school continue to surface in search engine queries.

Most search terms related to students returning to schools have climbed — with searches related to mental health 4.3 times higher, and those related to social and peer interactions 2.7 times higher. Other terms related to school also had higher-than-average searches between July 12 and August 12 compared with just a month or two earlier.

Captify compared sentiment in March and April -- when schools first began to close in the spring -- to mid-July to mid-August, during the fall re-opening. The data also identified the leading reasons for returning to schools.

Most education and virtual learning brands spiked in search volume between July 1 and July 15 compared with June 15 through 30, 2020. Search volume for Scholastic rose 86%, Pearson rose 31%, and McGraw Hill rose 22%. All, however, continued to decline following the peak in mid-July.

As states prepare to send students back to class, schools and parents rethink which direction they should take.

Captify sought to understand how people across the U.S. feel about how their state handles this issue. The search intelligence company broke down the U.S. by region from the Northeast, Midwest and South to the West -- to highlight the sentiment -- comparing March and April, when schools first began to close in the spring, with mid-July to mid-August, during the fall re-opening. The data also identified top reasons for returning to schools.

Sentiment toward school re-openings this fall is largely down. Some 82% in the Northeast were more positive between July and August, compared with 65% in March and April. But that was an anomaly. In all regions, the positive sentiment toward returning to school fell in July and August compared March and April.

  • Northeast -- rose 65% to 82%
  • Midwest -- fell from 85% to 79%
  • South -- fell from 90% to 79%
  • West -- fell from 88% to 77%

In New York, where COVID-19 peaked in mid-April, the uptick in sentiment is more pronounced between the two analyzed time periods, with positive sentiment toward reopening in New York increasing from 48% in March and April to 84% in July and August. California drove the numbers in the West, which fell from 87% to 66% positive sentiment.

The data shows parents have a more positive attitude overall, but trends differ based on the age of their kids:

  • Parents of teenagers are less positive and are dropping. They were 70% positive toward returning to school in March and April, compared to 67% positive in July and August.
  • The changes are more pronounced and more positive among parents of children under the age of 13, who were 69% positive nationwide on returning to school in March and April, and are now 78% positive about it in July and August.
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