How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting students? Who better to tell us than students themselves. Today we’re publishing a submission from ELCO junior Lucy Bickel.

If you would have asked pigtail-sporting, carefree, kindergarten me what my high school experience would be like, I probably would have said that I’d have an experience as perfect, as exciting, and as memorable as Troy and Gabriella from High School Musical had. But, if you ask me now—a junior at Eastern Lebanon County (ELCO) High School—how I think my high school experience is going, I would say that the only word that lived up to my five-year-old expectations was this fateful, nine-letter one: memorable, and not in the ways that I’d expected. 

While some generations lived through world wars, ours is living through a global pandemic due to the coronavirus, known as COVID-19. Stripping our second semester away starting Friday, March 13, 2020, the coronavirus suspended spring sports, canceled the prom, and took the lives of some in Lebanon County and thousands throughout the world. While some continued on with their days as they would have pre-coronavirus, others adjusted to the new normal, where face masks became their shield in fighting this dangerous disease. 

Over the summer, my family took all of the recommended precautions; we wore masks in public, we spaced out six feet apart when talking with friends and extended family, and we bought enough hand sanitizer and toilet paper to last the span of the entire pandemic, or so we thought. I watched in awe as my parents, who are both teachers of over 20 years in Lebanon County, worked tirelessly to create a new curriculum and navigate through the new changes they faced this year regarding changes in education. Meanwhile, I virtually attended college visits and tried to figure out what the next chapter of my life would be while sitting behind my MacBook Air screen. And most heart-wrenching of all, I waved to my grandmother for the last time as I sat six feet away from her through her screen porch. She passed away a day later unexpectedly, but no one knows exactly why. She had pneumonia the week prior, and both of her coronavirus test results came back negative, but who’s to say that she didn’t contract the virus on her way out of the hospital? Who’s to say that my parents didn’t give her the virus when they were dropping off her groceries? And, who’s to say that I didn’t transmit the virus to her while I was visiting her through her screen porch?

In my entire life, I had never been so on edge until those recent events regarding the coronavirus. I mean, it took away my remaining school year, my sanity, and possibly my grandmother. After my eventful and unexpected summer, you couldn’t have paid me to say that we’d be going back to school in the fall. 

Well, I guess I would’ve made a lot of money if I placed my bet that we’d be returning to school come August 30, 2020, because that’s exactly what happened. Prior to the first day, the administration gave students and families several choices regarding how their child would attend school for the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year: 

  1. Attend in an in-person hybrid schedule, where students with last names A-K (Blue Team) would attend school in-person on Monday and Tuesday, last names L-Z (Gold Team) would attend school in-person Thursday and Friday, and Wednesday would be an asynchronous day, where students would learn from home and have to complete assignments assigned virtually. On the days when the student was not attending school in-person, the student would stream into their classes and watch and participate in them live on the meeting app Zoom 
  2. Attend school synchronously, meaning that the student would not attend school in-person but would be streamed into the same classes they would’ve had in person through Zoom
  3. Attend school asynchronously, where students would enroll in ELCO’s cyber school program, Virtual Academy 

Out of these options, I chose the hybrid model because I would be able to see, learn from, and communicate with my friends, fellow students, and teachers in-person, even if it was for only two days at a time. However, since my last name began with B, I immediately felt cut off from all of my fellow students with last names L-Z because although we’re learning the same content, I didn’t physically see them throughout the day. Whenever I’d see an L-Z student outside of school, it would be like I was seeing a ghost. The whole experience between the Blue Team and the Gold Team was as if we were two ships passing in the night. 

On the days when I attended school in-person, I soaked up every minute of it. I’ve always loved school, but I never realized how much I missed pre-coronavirus school until the changes happened. Each day I’m in person, I have to make sure that I’m not one, not two, but ten steps ahead in order to expect the unexpected. Always on-guard, any questions I have for my teachers I ask them when I’m in-person because for me, writing a Schoology message to a teacher about a question doesn’t have the same effect as getting help in-person does. Planning ahead, when I have to make up a test, I schedule it for when I’m in the building, which can be tough when I’m only in-person two out of the five days in the school week. With trepidation, I drag my five-pound history and physics textbooks as well as my clarinet back and forth to school each day in case of a shutdown, because as we’ve seen in March, any day at school in-person could be your last for months at a time. Additionally, traveling between classes sometimes serves as an extra burden with the newly imposed one-way-hallways. Even with these challenges that only two days of in-person instruction brings, I am thankful that I can have social interactions with my friends, fellow students, and teachers without being behind a screen.

I might’ve spoken too soon because, on Thursdays and Fridays, my laptop is my best friend as I Zoom into my classes from my kitchen table. For me, every day in Zoom school (that’s what I’ve named the days when I’m learning synchronously) is like Groundhog’s Day. Same Zoom link, different day. Same classroom, except my view is from my teacher’s desk instead of from my desk. Same sort of lesson, except I’m learning it with my shih tzu sitting next to me. In my opinion, I feel like Zoom school is by far less personal than learning in-person. As soon as the teacher dismisses us and I sign off the Zoom meeting, I feel isolated from the excitement that’s going on in the classroom. It’s like an athlete watching the game with a broken foot: I just feel sidelined. 

However, there are some students that love the new format of school. They enjoy attending school from the comforts of their own home because it reduces their anxiety and is less stressful for them. In my case though, watching school on TV–I mean, through Zoom–is more stressful than attending school in-person. I’m always afraid that my connection is going to go haywire and I’m not going to be able to connect to my Zoom classes. I’m so worried that I’m not going to Zoom in on time to the point where I have nine alarms set on my phone throughout the synchronous days. Plus, whenever our teacher lets us go early, I struggle with figuring out how to use my extra time. Should I take this time to get three-and-a-half pre-calculus problems done, or should I eat some Cheez-Its and watch Dance Moms for ten minutes before my next class? I have that battle in my brain at least five times a day when I’m in Zoom school. 

Out of all of these interesting scenarios though, taking tests and quizzes from my kitchen table is honestly the weirdest thing about attending school synchronously. Some teachers give all of their students tests and quizzes on the same day, whereas others assign the Blue Team when they’re in-person and the Gold Team when they’re in person. It’s an interesting dichotomy of tests and quizzes this year compared to last year because, before the shutdown, everyone took it the same day whereas this year, everyone’s test days were staggered. Taking tests and quizzes at home also allows for the possibility of more students cheating, but I guess with the coronavirus as a whole, schools can only give and take so much. 

I think out of everything 2020 has brought me, the amount of stress regarding the unknown it has thrown my way is tremendous. I wouldn’t consider myself an anxious person, but I feel like this year makes up for my lack of stress in years prior. I can’t speak for all students my age, but I feel that some of us, including me, are just at our breaking point. No one really expected school amidst the virus to last as long as it has, and the added stress of schoolwork, sports, and extracurricular activities–not to mention COVID-19–has seemed to be placing an extra burden on all of us. Everyone is just hoping for a vaccine and for the coronavirus to be over, but is that hope enough? 

In my opinion, yes; hope is what we need in this unpredictable time. I just keep remembering pre-covid days and how much they meant to me and hoping that I’ll experience days like those again. I never really knew how much I’ve taken for granted the little things in life until the coronavirus took most of them away. If I were able to tell a naive five-year-old me one piece of advice, I’d say, “No matter how hard things may get, it can only get better, and you have to have hope and faith in yourself that that will happen.” We can all get through this coronavirus-centered chapter of our lives together, as this is all part of our story.


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