Swept Downstream: on a year of education during the pandemic | Schools | Hudson Valley
This time last year, I would have been dressed, my face made up with my current favorite eyeliner, running to the bus with several pounds of books and papers on my back at seven in the morning. Now at 7 a.m., I wake up two minutes before class, roll over in bed to grab my computer, and start school with my pajamas on. Do you wake up for the start time? Thirty seconds on a slow day.
I take my lessons from my desk or my bed; my whole world is now contained within the four walls of my room. When I get to meet me, I see a black screen, colored circles with initials now representing classmates I’ve known as three-dimensional human beings for eight years. A teacher asks a question and the silence is painfully strong. The energy and courage to press the sound activation button seems impossible to muster, and although I feel my teacher’s animal status slipping like sand through my fingers, I leave the question unanswered. This pattern is repeated dozens of times, then the teacher assigns homework and completes the lesson. I log off and collapse on my bed, tired and frustrated after only 40 minutes of school. Eight more courses to do. Most of them will feel exactly like this.
An optimistic start
Last fall I was optimistic about online school. I had just learned that I would not have to risk my personal safety or the safety of my family by coming back in person. But all that positivity collapsed like wet fireworks after almost a full school year of distance learning.
I was optimistic for a reason. In the first months of the pandemic, there were countless human interest stories about neighbors helping neighbors, communities coming together and a world working towards a common goal. My family watched John Krasinski’s online show “Some Good News” like it was therapy, played a take out container sanitization game, and attended weekly Zoom meetings with loved ones, laughing and catching up. like a family in a pandemic-themed advertisement. This stage of the pandemic (from March 2020 to last July) does not seem quite real given where we are now. Horrible things were happening, but the way we all came together around our shared experiences – the novelty of Zoom, the lovable relatability of being bored in quarantine, the adaptation to wearing masks all the time – made it seem like feel that the whole world was in a bubble, closed and together.
This bubble has burst. The controversial political climate, the continued spread of COVID, and the realities of online school have made it clear that we are not completely united as humans, and that we do not always work to help ourselves build and grow. thrive in these “unprecedented times”. Being a teenager in this pandemic has meant sacrificing my idealized version of high school on coming of age, for the sake of safety and the greater good of the world. Instead of riding with friends or sneaking around to parties, I’m home alone.
Be pulled under
When I think about how school is going, my mind changes perspective all the time. On the one hand, most of my teachers are kind and helpful, and they try to adapt to new technologies and teaching methods. On the other hand, some seem to view students as homework machines even more than before. I get the feeling they assume that being home means we have more time for homework, like we’re just twiddling our thumbs now that our social life has been taken away from us. In reality, time that was once spent socializing, after-school jobs, college prep, and all the other minutiae of teenage life has been replaced by time-consuming worries about the condition of the child. world, which leaves us busier not less. Staying motivated takes a lot of energy.
Once, when I was younger, I went swimming and was swept downstream by a vicious current. I managed to grab a branch that was crossing the river and withdrew, but I could feel the water spilling over me, not wanting to free me. This is what the online school sometimes feels like.
I reach the branch, the end of the pandemic, but so much is dragging me down. I soar into existential thought as I try to do my homework or find a positive attitude, and then I tell myself that I have no reason to feel so upset and demotivated. Then the nicest part of my brain emerges, reminding me that all of life as I knew it was turned upside down in less than a week. The two sides of my brain campaign vie for my attention as a political candidate in a state of swing.
If the school were not virtual, my existential reflections on the future would still be there, as would my opposition to several key aspects of the American education system. I have always struggled in school to some extent, whether it was a math class, the breakup of a group of friends, or the desire to rush through college. So why has distance learning made it all so much more difficult?
One factor is isolation. Having people making jokes in class or teachers to chat with is part of the school I took for granted. But no one mutes Zoom for something as fleeting as humor, and bumping into people for a quick, casual conversation doesn’t happen. It is now impossible to access a whole community of friends, mentors and acquaintances. Sitting in my room and in silence for huge parts of the day is to isolate.
Another part of the isolation is my awareness that a lot of my friends are ‘only school’ – people that I really love, but I don’t hang out or talk about anything other than school. , which means that my social circle has shrunk considerably. I know I’m not the only one feeling this new isolation, and I can’t help but worry about the long-term effects it will have on my entire generation.
Another factor is the volume of technical difficulties. On a typical day, my WiFi turns off half a dozen times. My school computer seems unable to handle much of what I need, resulting in periodic and frantic troubleshooting. My teachers and classmates face an avalanche of similar difficulties: broken microphones, bad WiFi, audio or video issues. In addition to the technical issues, there are also the realities of people’s lives at home. Several times I saw a teacher call a student and the student responded via the chat function: “My house is too loud to turn on the sound” or “My Wi-Fi is really bad I didn’t hear what you said.“ The pandemic has revealed that not everyone has the favorable, calm and capable family situation necessary for virtual learning, but we haven’t done enough to solve the problem or help people. Instead, we awkwardly see it in action and try to move on.
Some changes for the worse
I felt a little frustrated when the virtual school started, but tried to stay positive because I was afraid that if I didn’t I would slip into, well, the mood that I am now. I said that since things were so changed, I would “give back to school new meaning” and allow my perspective to change based on what happened to me. My perspective has changed and some of those changes have been for the worse.
I know no adult wants to hear this, and I know no one wants more pessimism right now. So it would be a mistake not to mention some of the unexpected benefits of being at home. It’s nice to have a quiet lunch break where I can do whatever I want. It’s fine to define parts of my own schedule (although it can be a double-edged sword, because finding motivation during an unstructured time is so difficult). I like that I am more comfortable sending emails to teachers. I love that some teachers turn the lack of cameras or engagement during class into jokes that I missed my classmates; it’s nice to see a bit of positivity and humor come out of it. It’s also nice to see my family periodically throughout the day; I will go to university next fall and I will no longer have this ability. I like the little things: the time to read, the way the sun shines through my window at a time when I usually wouldn’t be home, the chance to take a break between classes and think, instead of running in the hallways.
Here is my conclusion “at this point”: we all struggle and we all try, but it seems like we have taken some away from working together. Some people say it’s life returning to normal, but for me it’s more of an indefinite stage in limbo. If this is what the new normal is going to be, I want to incorporate some of what we learned when things weren’t normal at all.
This year has made me pessimistic, as much as I don’t want to. In order to combat this, I want to share my experience and give people who may not know how things have been for teenagers a glimpse behind the curtain. As the first pandemic showed, unity is possible, good neighborly goodwill still exists. The image of everyone stepping up to help struggling students or joining the fight to resolve many of the issues this pandemic has exacerbated is heartwarming and hopefully possible.
Sophie Frank is a student at Onteora High School in Boiceville. She is an aspiring journalist, activist and hobbyist baker.