Lys Goldman is a senior at Staples High School. She is a captain of the girls’ soccer team and a paper managing editor of Inklings, the student newspaper. She is also involved in other clubs, primarily focused on animal rights activism and environmental sustainability.
She does not speak for all Staples students — but her insights are on target, and important. Lys writes:
I walk through the hallways donning my navy blue mask, smiling at friends and then laughing at myself for forgetting that they cannot see my mouth.
I arrive at class shortly after the bell rings, my trip prolonged by the one-way hallways that prohibit my usual routes. I sit down in my classroom as my teacher opens the Zoom meeting and greets the students at home.
Eighty long minutes later I stand up, disinfect my desk with an alcohol wipe, and repeat the process again.
The next day, instead of driving to Staples for in-person school, I drag myself out of bed 3 minutes before my first class. I log onto Zoom to learn online from the comfort of my own house.
Being a high school student during a pandemic has brought changes and difficulties, from dogs barking during online learning, to diminished connections between fellow students, to a loss of typical social lives and extracurricular activities.
However, there have also been unexpected positive impacts, such as a renewed gratitude for time in school and lessened stress levels during online learning.
In school, the environment and procedures have undergone significant modifications to foster safety amidst the pandemic. Of course, first and foremost is the mask mandate. Going to school in a mask, while unfortunately impeding on my penchant for snacking constantly during class, has not had any notable consequences on my ability to learn.
Conversely, the distance between desks has had outsized negative repercussions on my experience in school. Though most of my classes freshman to junior year set up desks in different ways, all grouped at least 2 desks together.
I did not realize it at the time, but the desk setup was a key component in allowing me to connect with my classmates and gain a better understanding of the course content by talking with peers around me.
Because of COVID-19, each desk is uniformly separated to retain space between students. Isolated desks make it very difficult to talk with classmates and help each other understand the material.
Another challenge that the pandemic has presented with regards to the hybrid model is the testing procedure. Exam policy varies from teacher to teacher, creating discrepancies throughout the school and even within courses.
Some teachers allow notes on all exams at home and in school; some split the test into 2 sections with notes allowed at home and disallowed in school; some trust the integrity of students at home and prohibit notes on all exams. Ultimately, the lack of uniformity in testing policies and procedures has resulted in questions of fairness among students.
Though the pandemic has unsurprisingly resulted in numerous negative implications on in-school learning, it has strengthened my gratitude for the opportunity to even be in school at all. Knowing that lots of students elsewhere have been forced to turn to full online learning, I have begun appreciating every moment in school — even the miserable test-taking ones.
At home, the challenges and benefits differ from those at school. The main struggle for me is staying focused and eliminating distractions. In a family of 10 kids, 5 dogs, 5 cats and 2 birds, it is very difficult for me to keep my attention strictly concentrated on my class Zoom. It is also very easy to zone out when you are sitting in your own bedroom rather than in a classroom.
On the other hand, online learning does come with some benefits: namely, the opportunity to stay home when needed and not miss important class information or activities.
I am a big believer in mental health days, but sometimes I decide against taking a mental health day even when I need one because I do not want to miss important information, and I do not want the burden of making up classwork.
However, with the ability to stay home and learn on Zoom when needed, it relieves some stress when I feel like I need a stay-at-home day but don’t want to fall behind in my classes.
Outside of school, the typical high school social life has clearly been impacted by COVID-19. I still hang out with a small group of friends, but I avoid large group gatherings. Though I do wish I could participate in a bigger group setting sometimes, I do not believe it is a big price to pay to stay safe.
Additionally, extracurricular activities have been forced to adjust to follow safety regulations, but many are at least still proceeding even in a slightly different form. As member of the girls’ soccer team and the school newspaper, I have experienced a year so far in both organizations that I certainly could not have imagined, but I am extremely grateful that I am able to play and write at all.
I never expected my senior year of high school to include the changes and adjustments precipitated by the pandemic. Despite the challenges, I am thankful for the opportunity to continue with in-school learning and after-school activities, even with restrictions.
Looking toward college and the rest of my life, I believe this experience will help me appreciate the sense of normalcy that I often overlooked prior to the pandemic.