These students, plus one parent, open up about the wave of emotions that comes with starting a school year unlike any other we've experienced before.
August 24, 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep across the country, students, families, and teachers are navigating the new normal of going back to school—while much of the country still shelters in place. Some students are preparing for a return to remote learning. Others are still unsure of how exactly they will be attending school this year.
We spoke with a few students and their family members from different schools around the country to learn what school will look like for them this fall. They shared their personal experiences with remote learning and how they feel about going back to school in the middle of a pandemic.
Missing Everything About School
‘I Just Carry on About My Day With No Specific Emotion’
Syedah Asghar, College Sophomore, Washington, D.C.
Syedah Asghar will begin her second year of college at American University in Washington, D.C., where she studies public relations and strategic communications. After receiving some mixed messages over the summer about the status of her school reopening, Syedah recently learned that her school’s campus will remain closed for the fall semester. She plans to attend remote classes in a few weeks. And like many college students, she is grappling with staying motivated and missing out on the college experience.
College has been a safe space where I’m the most “me.” I would wake up much happier. I had confidence in my routine, and I was surrounded by friends who made me feel excited to start the day. With online learning, I just carry on about my day with no specific emotion.
The hardest part about attending college remotely is maintaining a routine and motivation. For in-person classes, I would get dressed and have to physically be present which put a start to my day. Now, I sometimes turn on my computer as soon as I wake up and not give myself the mental space ahead of time to start my day. On the plus side, with online learning, there is a lot more flexibility in my schedule since I’m able to complete an assignment on my own timeframe. Most of my professors are honoring mental health, and are more understanding of external factors that impact the quality of education now that we're learning remotely.
Being part of the Enduring Ideas Fellowship has kept me busy working 20 hours a week. I’m also trying to get creative by learning how to cook and attempting new recipes. With my friends, we’ve all been checking-in and making sure we’re able to support one another through these mentally-draining times. Only two of my professors have reached out and asked how we’re doing, so there isn’t much support on that end.
While it can be mentally challenging and exhausting, I’m very fortunate to have access to technology and internet connection so I can complete my coursework. And I’m able to stay at home and quarantine if need be.
‘I'm Hoping That Jose Goes Back, Even Though I Know It's Scary’
Marisol Escobedo & Jose Manrrique, 4th grade, Kansas City, Missouri
Fourth-grade student Jose Manrrique is returning to school at Carver Dual Language in Kansas City, Missouri, in September—virtually, for now. Schools in the Kansas City Public School System will not reopen for in-person instruction until the community’s COVID-19 cases decrease for at least 14 days. While Jose eagerly awaits the day when he can return to the classroom and see his teachers and friends again, his mother, Marisol Escobedo, feels much more conflicted.
Marisol: They're going to be starting online school first, on September 8th. They will do that for a couple of months while the cases keep decreasing, then they will start putting some of the kids back in school. I'm hoping that Jose goes back, even though I know it's scary at the same time for him to go. I'm really worried that he will get sick. I don't want to go through that, it scares me. But I really would like Jose to be able to develop his learning so that he can learn what he's supposed to in school.
I don't really think that Jose learned much from online classes. Even though I know that the teachers do their best to teach them as much as they can, I don't think it's the same for the kids.
Especially the younger ages, I think that it's hard for them to be able to teach them everything on a computer—especially because you have multiple children at the same time in the class. For an older student, like my sister, I know that she did really good because she's older. She's 16 and she already knows what she's doing. But for Jose, it was hard.
I'm hoping that they will make the school safe for students, to try to keep them as healthy as they can. I don't know what that process will be, but I'm hoping that everything that they do, they will plan it well.
Jose: I want to go back in the school building. I'm hoping that I can still play with my friends and also be in the same class with my friends.
Adapting to a New Normal
‘I Have to Push Myself to Get Things Done’
Haanya Ijaz, 12th Grade, Dublin, Ohio
Haanya Ijaz is a rising senior at Hilliard Davidson, in Dublin, Ohio where she will be attending remote classes in the fall. She’s also taking classes at Ohio State University, which will be solely online. While she finds in-person classes more interesting and also values the face-to-face time with friends, she knows online learning is safer, and also allows her to independently create a schedule that works for her.
Online classes are definitely a lot more organized this fall than before.
I also think I've gained skills with handling procrastination and sticking to a schedule, so I should be more organized this fall. [The hardest part about online learning is] staying interested and motivated. Without sticking to a schedule, I easily fall into a cycle of procrastination and feeling down, so I have to push myself to get things done and stay on top of my responsibilities.
Most of my classes should be done before 4 p.m., leaving me room to work on college apps and extracurriculars in the afternoon along with homework.
I also think I'll have more time for my personal hobbies and interests which have always been something that give me a break outside of academics and keep my mental health in check. I read a lot! I also sketch landscapes, my friends, and characters from my favorite shows. Recently I've gotten back into skateboarding after a one-year-long hiatus, which has been great.
[I feel worried about] college applications and the situation with the state-administered SAT. It's still very gray. [I’m hopeful about my] self-growth and exploration with this extra time at home! I am also looking forward to the remote internship opportunities I will be participating in this fall.
I would obviously love it if COVID-19 did not exist, but within the current parameters of the situation I'm excited for the courses I am taking and the extracurriculars I am involved in. I also have a huge list of books I need to get through, so staying at home is going to be great for that!
‘I’m Feeling Hopeful About My Ability to Sit in on More Online Classes’
Annabel Morley, 12th Grade, Baltimore, Maryland
Annabel Morley is a rising senior at the Baltimore School of Arts. At least the beginning of Annabel’s final year of high school will be spent at home, where she will be learning remotely. Although Annabel worries about how engaging and supportive online learning will be this year, she’s found a silver lining: More time at home means that she has more time for her artistic pursuits which include writing for CHARM, an online literary magazine that amplifies voices of Baltimore youth and spending time with her family.
I’m not really sure yet what my school day will look like, but I know it will be entirely online. I definitely don’t think I would feel very safe going back to school in person unless CDC guidelines were followed really well. Both my parents are at risk and I wouldn’t want to put them, or my friends’ families, at risk.
The hardest part of attending school remotely is definitely not seeing any of my school friends in person and having some difficulty understanding the content. We have a lot less academic support. I’m most worried about understanding what's going on in my classes—especially in math. I hope that we can find a way for online schooling to be more engaging because it was very difficult to understand or stay focused on a class last spring.
Now that school is online, I definitely have more time to work on personal projects and interests. For example, I’ve started crocheting and oil painting, and have made a bunch of clothes. During quarantine, I've mainly been doing lots of crafts and baking, Facetiming, and having safe outdoor hangouts with my friends.
My mom and I are really close so it's been nice to be able to spend more time with her, and with all the Facetiming with my friends, I feel like I’ve been really loved and supported during this time. I’m feeling hopeful about my ability to sit in on more online classes and teach myself artistic and personal skills.
‘Honestly, I Would Prefer Learning in a Virtual Setting’
Amia Roach-Valandra, 12th Grade, Rosebud, South Dakota
Amia Roach-Valandra will begin her senior year of high school this fall on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. She is also an Enduring Ideas fellow, a student-led leadership initiative to reimagine the future of education. Amia's school will be online during the first quarter, with plans to reevaluate whether to open for in-person classes. Like many students and families, Amia is feeling anxious not knowing what lies ahead.
In this new school year, we are faced with challenges that we never had to face before. My high school reached a decision to go online for the first quarter and have a revaluation in nine weeks. As a student I feel in the dark about the decision that is being made, and anxious about it. If the school isn’t prepared yet, how do they expect students to be prepared?
Not having a normal school setting may not allow me to be the best student I can be. I’ll have the safety of my health top of mind instead of learning the curriculum. Honestly, I would prefer learning in a virtual setting, and being able to learn from the comfort of my own home. I know I would be able to stay on top of assignments, although I know some students may not feel the same.
I am also a student-athlete, and I am worried about my school's plan regarding sports. It is definitely a piece of my life that I would want to go back to normal, yet I want to be considerate of my health as well as others. A lot of students depend on sports as a place to escape for a while, and others depend on sports scholarships for college. I am also thinking about those students and how much that will impact them this school year.
‘My Overall Mental and Physical Health Improved Significantly’
Tehle Ross, 10th Grade, Baltimore, Maryland
Tehle Ross is a rising sophomore attending Baltimore City College and a contributor for CHARM, a digital magazine featuring voices of Baltimore youth. She loves studying history and plans to study abroad this year in Italy, a country that has made a remarkable recovery through the pandemic. Her Italian school will be a hybrid of online and in-person at the beginning of the year and Tehle is optimistic about transitioning to all in-person classes.
Attending school remotely has several benefits and shortcomings alike. Each family's living and working situation is different; however, in my personal experience, I noticed that my overall mental and physical health improved significantly when doing school online. I was less stressed because I was able to space out my work as I desired, and I also was able to complete every assignment from the comfort of my own home. Attending school remotely stunted my academic progress, though, I believe, for I am a more focused student when instruction takes place in the classroom with my peers.
The hardest part of attending school remotely was the social isolation from my classmates and teachers. At school, you always feel like you have a community around you, and it is tough to not feel that same sense of community when learning online at home. Additionally, it takes an innate sense of motivation to get assignments done in a timely manner when you are doing work online.
Quarantine has been tough for us all, but I cope and stay busy by doing what makes me happy. I have developed a passion for baking, and I have also been an avid reader and writer. Having game nights with my family and watching movies together lifts my spirits.
My community has been supporting me during this time by checking up on me and staying in touch virtually. Supporting others during this time means prioritizing their safety.
Worries and Hopes About the Next Chapter
‘This Pandemic is Serious, But People Have Stopped Taking it Seriously’
Shubhan Bhat, 11th Grade, Baltimore, Maryland
Shubhan Bhat will also begin 11th grade this fall at The Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. He enjoys poetry, writing for CHARM magazine, and studying American government. His school will hold online classes this fall and possibly offer a hybrid option later on. Shubhan prefers remote learning because it’s less stressful and safer for students. But being at home while trying to learn has also been very difficult for Shubhan and his family.
With remote learning, I gained more time to finish my work, had less stress, and more free time. What is lost is the social aspect of the classes, which is fine with me. I’m hopeful that online classes will be safer than an in-person school and there will be less work.
The hardest part about attending school remotely is being in the house when events happen. I was in my English class when the paramedics came to my house to try and revive my grandfather. I watched my grandfather die right in the middle of class. At that point, because my maternal grandfather also died a month ago, I lost all my motivation to be in class or do work. I left class, and haven’t come back since.
I’ve been getting support through classes and therapy. My family tries to work together on activities so I won’t be depressed during quarantine. My teachers also made my classes optional last spring so that decreased my stress. I don’t really have a lot of friends or go on social media as much as I used to. It used to entertain me, but it’s starting to get boring.
I wish schools in Texas and Florida wouldn't be in-person. I find that in-person classes during the pandemic aren't safe because students are going out in public and have a greater risk of spreading COVID. This pandemic is serious, but people have stopped taking it seriously. And now there is an increase in cases.
‘I Fear All of My College Plans Will Go Out the Window’
Me’Shiah Bell, 11th Grade, Baltimore Maryland
Me’Shiah Bell is a rising 11th grader at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, where students will continue to receive remote instruction this fall. While Me’Shiah believes that remote learning is the best and safest option for now, she worries about what remote learning will mean for her college plans—especially since she’s entering her junior year, a critical time for college admissions. In her free time, Me’Shiah also writes for CHARM online magazine.
I think remote learning is the best option, as it is the safest. However, I think there are quite a few downsides.
I miss the social interactions, but I realize that it’s unimportant in the long run. The main downside for me is the lack of clarity and communication between the students and teachers. For example, last spring I had a grading error that would have been fixed immediately if I was physically at school. However, since I wasn’t there, there was no sense of urgency, and my concern was disregarded by multiple adults. This caused the situation to be pushed over for much longer than it should’ve been.
Hopefully, this fall we’ll have a better system to avoid issues like this. I also hope classes will be scheduled like a typical school day, with multiple sessions in a row, and independent work to do between classes. Last spring, teachers could decide if and when classes sessions were held, and everything was very unorganized. Sometimes, the sessions would overlap with other responsibilities I had.
The hardest part of remote learning has been keeping myself motivated and holding myself accountable. I’m going into my junior year, which is probably the most important year for college admissions, and I don’t feel like I’m able to put my best foot forward. I’ve worked hard to get to the point I’m at now, and I fear that all of my college plans will go out of the window due to circumstances out of my control.
Overall, I’m worried about how prepared I am mentally to adjust to such a huge change, while still continuing to perform well academically. I’m hopeful that my school will be more prepared to accommodate all of our needs so that everyone can have the best possible experience.
‘I Think COVID Gave Me a New Story to Tell the Next Generation’
Rosalie Bobbett, 12th Grade, Brooklyn, New York
This August, Rosalie Bobbett will begin her senior year at Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy (BELA). The first three weeks of school will be held online, after which she will alternate one week of in-person classes and one week of remote learning. Rosalie lives with her parents, siblings, grandmother, and uncle so she’s been extra cautious about quarantining. Going back to in-person classes will be a big adjustment. But she’s ready.
My school is really on top of safety. They're going to make us wear masks. And we have to get a COVID test before we enter the school building. For in-person classes, we're going to stay in one room with 12 other people. The teachers have to rotate to us instead of us traveling in a big group.
I think with online learning, it gives me an opportunity to move at my own pace and take accountability for my learning. The disadvantages are the lack of talking to people and being in the classroom. I'm very fortunate to be in a school where I have a computer. I know how to work Zoom. I know how to work from Microsoft. Most of my peers don’t even have a computer. And so I'm wondering—how are those students navigating this world right now?
I feel like a lot of students are going to be left behind because of resources or their parents—there might be other children in the home and it's going to be difficult for them to take care of their siblings. The teachers and principals and people who are responsible for their education—I don't want them to lose sight of that child who is behind the screen.
I’m excited about school. It's my senior year. This is the last chapter before entering my adulthood. I think COVID gave me a new story to tell the next generation. It's going to be a lot of mixed emotions, but I know my teachers are going to make my senior year the best that they can.
How are new teachers coping with the new realities of returning to school? Find out what some incoming corps members told us about starting their teaching career in the midst of a pandemic.
More Community Voices
“COVID-19: Community Voices” offers a glimpse of life and learning during the coronavirus school closures, in the words of students and parents in the communities we serve.
If you'd like to tell your story or would like to suggest a story for us to cover, please email us.