AUSTIN, Texas — Millions of American students spent much of the pandemic learning in isolation.
Ramya Nambala, a senior in high school, said the time also allowed her to reflect.
"I introspected a lot, like what is the purpose of high school? Why am I running this rat race? And why do I not feel good about it? Like, yes, I'm completing my assignments, I'm feeling like my grades are OK, but I don't feel that OK," she said.
Nambala gained perspective during the pandemic.
"I had a couple of friends who they're busy taking care of their siblings and they weren't able to necessarily log on to Zoom," she said. "Their home responsibilities trumped being able to attend school and that hurt them in the long run. Your background really came into play in terms of how the pandemic affected you."
Nambala wrote a book on how inequities in education impact a student's success.
"We had to relearn how to be engaged in class, and that's still something we're recovering from right now," she said.
At a time when they are needed most, school resources are stretched thin. There’s a nationwide teacher shortage. Federal data says 44% of schools report staff vacancies. More than 60% of the schools cite the pandemic for the vacancies.
"We're in an education crisis right now because our teachers are leaving," said Scott Muri, a superintendent in Odessa, Texas.
He says the staff shortage is making it nearly impossible to address the needs students of all students.
"I think politically there are a lot of conversations around our country about our teachers are offended by many of these conversations, and sometimes they throw up their hands, you know, and ask, why do I need to be in a profession that is constantly under attack," he said.
With education being the center of campaigns around the country, many national conversations focus on critical race theory, banning books and LGBTQ issues.
Nambala is concerned that issues directly impacting students following the pandemic are not being addressed.
"That's not something students are facing everyday in the classroom," she said.
Parents in Austin, Texas are rallying to encourage their school officials to take their kids’ mental health seriously.
"This should not be a contentious issue. Both parties, any party, should be competing for how much they can support public education," said Allen Weeks, executive director of Austin Voices.
As the midterm election approaches, educators, parents and students hope that their voices are heard.
Nambala can’t vote quite yet, but she’s hoping everyone keeps education in mind when they cast their ballots.