An empty classroom in New York City in November 2020. (Michael Loccisano / Getty Images)
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published by Youth Communication and is reposted here with permission and revisions. YC is a nonprofit publisher of teen-written stories and curriculum to help educators strengthen the social and emotional skills of youth.
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I was having a wonderful week until I heard these words from my eighth-grade science teacher: “If you haven’t heard about Covid-19, cases are rising so there’s a possible chance we’ll be out of school, and if it gets worse, we might not come back.” My friends and I didn’t seem to pay attention until she gave us all a packet of homework.
It was the middle of March 2020. I was worried, but some of my classmates actually hoped for school to go online. I knew my classmates well; in two seconds they would be crying, wanting to see each other again. They didn’t know what they were wishing for, but I tried to stay optimistic. Maybe I’d just be off school for a week?
Later that day, my art teacher called me at home. She told me we wouldn’t be going back to school for awhile and gave me my Google Classroom information—something I wasn’t yet familiar with. She told me my other teachers would be calling to prepare me for the changes to their classes as well. In math, we had to learn how to type all of the symbols for our algebra assignments, and aligning the problems perfectly on the screen was more difficult than simply writing on paper.
My four siblings started attending their classes from home too. It felt like a zoo. When my teachers called on me to speak, I had to give a signal to my siblings to quiet down. In some classes, online learning was just boring. I got too comfortable and started sleeping in—even taking naps during class with my camera off. I once woke up to one teacher shouting my name. “Marylene! Marylene! Hello?!”
But my sisters and I also got closer during this time. I had to start helping one with her Pre-K classes every day, which helped balance my schedule and use my time more efficiently.
As the first semester of online learning was winding down, students began receiving our high school acceptance letters online. I had persevered and put all my effort into my application. I logged in and saw that I got into Beacon—my first choice! It felt like the only good thing to happen during the crazy time that we were living in. When I told the news to my family, we jumped and celebrated, shaking the whole house. The next day in class, we all shared our news, good or bad. In our virtual chats, my friends and I congratulated and comforted each other. Somehow, it almost felt like regular school again.
When the year was coming to an end, my teachers spoke about the potential for schools to reopen. I had been holding out hope for an in-person graduation and prom. Over the summer, we would be able to collect our things from our lockers, but we didn’t get the chance to return fully and graduation would be online. The school set up a time for us to collect our yearbooks, caps, gowns, and refund checks for other canceled activities. I walked back home with my sister, heartbroken. I felt like tossing out the whole bag of graduation items. What was the point?! When I got home, I looked through the yearbook and a rush of nostalgia hit me as I flipped through the pages.
On the day of my virtual graduation, I wanted to take pictures with my friends in person, but I messed up my hair, and my friends couldn’t wait for me because our online ceremony was starting. I started crying, feeling like my whole day was ruined. I wanted to lock myself in the bathroom and break my phone and everything around me. But with our relationship stronger than ever, my sisters ended up fixing my hair and took photos with me instead. After working out some technical difficulties, I was finally able to join the ceremony only a few minutes late. I heard my name called along with all of my classmates.
Summer finally came and the pandemic seemed to lessen its grip on New York, with restaurants and other businesses beginning to open up, but I was still cautious and wore my mask. I started receiving e-mails from my high school to help prepare me for my first year, but in the fall, my hopes were tempered once again when we started school online. We ended up doing my whole freshman year remotely. But at least this time, I had a whole year of experience on how to adjust, learning to find comfort at home.
Marylene BiohMarylene Bioh is 15 years old and attends Beacon High School in Manhattan.
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