Recapping the chaos
Students reflect on 2020 almost a year after COVID lockdown
March 1, 2021
The year was 2020: major holidays conveniently landed on weekends, high school seniors longed for graduation, families planned their annual vacations and young adults anticipated the feeling of being squashed like sardines in a can at a Coachella mosh pit. The new decade looked promising.
And then, circa March 2020, the impending hope for a good year came crashing down.
The end of the world (as they knew it)
March 13, 2020, a seemingly irrelevant date, is now permanently engraved in the mind of every student and teacher. Initially, the date signified nothing further than the end of midterms week and the beginning of a long-awaited spring break. Sophomore Jacob Velarde recalls the infamous date, vividly describing the events of the day before the, originally, week-long break.
“I remember walking out of [school], and that day in biology, we got assigned [a project] where we had to grow these fish,” Velarde said. “It was a project we were [going to] do until the end of [the] school [year]. And then we just went home.”
After the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic, students’ return to school was heavily contemplated by the district. Students, like Velarde, assumed classes would resume as usual following the break. Others, like senior Madelyn Bloom, viewed the unfolding events as a foreshadowing of school closures.
“We actually had a [theater] competition [March 14],” Bloom said. “As soon as we left [on Friday], we got a message from our directors that we had to come back and unload everything from the truck because we weren’t going. We were like ‘What is going on? This is just a small little thing.’ And then spring break happened. As things started progressing, I’ve always been a little bit pessimistic, so I was like ‘No, I don’t think [we’re going back].’”
Shortly thereafter, the district announced its official cancellation of classes for the remainder of the school year, plunging students and teachers alike into the uncharted territory: online learning.
The routine once promised by an eight-hour school day quickly became non-existent as academic and recreational worlds blended together, making the establishment of boundaries a near-impossible task.
“My motivation with online learning [was] at an all-time low,” senior Allison Durocher said. “I could not imagine having four core classes online. It’s so easy to get distracted, and not being able to really communicate with peers and teachers really takes away the joy of learning.”
Those who opted for remote learning found their productivity levels declined due to loss in structure. Additionally, the school’s designated software for online instruction, Edgenuity, slightly impaired communication between teachers and students and resulted in discouragement from students participating in the virtual pathway, like Guzman.
“When you [attend] in-person school, you sometimes have to turn in an assignment or test before the class period ends [and] your teacher assists you with any questions you may have,” senior Camila Guzman said. “Online, you can mostly turn it in whenever you want and it’s a bit harder to get a hold of teachers.”
As they faced the abnormalities of schooling in 2020, some admitted to losing interest in academics altogether. Velarde, who is enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) classes, stated the course load could be overwhelming, posing an additional struggle to his mental health.
“My challenge this year was AP Chemistry,” Velarde said. “[I became] understanding about time management and also balancing my mental health with school. In virtual classes, it’s a little harder because it’s a lot more draining. There would be moments where I would [think] ‘Should I choose just feeling OK or doing good in school?’ I had to decide on that factor and take my mental health seriously.”
Pandemic of the mind
An ever-increasing lack of motivation, coupled with isolation, took a toll on students like never before. Guzman said her time in quarantine was her first encounter with any kind of mental health difficulties. Prior to lockdown, Guzman remembers feeling excited about future endeavors.
“I began the year with lots of friends, lots of hope and motivation, and lots of excitement for the new year,” Guzman said. “I knew exactly what I wanted and who I was. It wasn’t until May [when] everything began to take a toll on me. It was like I was walking beside my inner self and I ended up getting lost along the way. In other words, I basically started having an identity crisis, without any comprehension of [its] meaning.”
Sophomore Olivia Kabano, who also vocalized her quarantine struggles, recalled the frustration and restrictiveness which presented itself after losing multiple members of her extended family during the lockdown.
“It [was] so difficult because my mom wanted to go back home and go to the funerals, go to the wakes, but we weren’t able to,” Kabano said. “It just felt so restrictive. You couldn’t even take a day to go home and mourn with the rest of your family. I really wish there was something I could’ve done, or something anybody could have done. But it was one of those situations where you can’t, you just have to let it pass.”
Teens who had previously struggled with anxiety or depression felt their difficulties with mental illness were significantly amplified due to quarantine. Bloom said this period, hardship aside, taught her the importance of acknowledging her feelings and making time to prioritize her well-being.
“My anxiety and depression flared up a lot,” Bloom said. “It was something I had experienced, but not as hard, [so] I’ve been going through therapy. Self-care is definitely important. Learning to reflect daily on how you feel, being honest with yourself about how you feel and figuring out ways you can make yourself feel a little better. Whether it’s writing, painting or even taking a shower, you just have to look at the little things [and] see what you can do to make yourself better.”
As the pandemic raged on, the teens found themselves in a desperate search for something to believe in. For Velarde, peace of mind came in the form of music, physical activity and learning to be his own company.
“Blaise Pascal said ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,’ Velarde said. “I pretty much took that to heart and was like ‘I’m going to have to learn to be by myself if I actually want to be happy. Not just right now, but through life.’ I challenged myself to learn what I actually liked and, if I felt like [doing something], to dedicate time to it. I would spend like an hour of my day doing actual school [work] and then everything else was [hobbies like] guitar. I would go out and skate in the neighborhood. It influenced me a lot because I learned about myself, which was pretty nice.”
Similarly, Kabano created a new sense of normalcy for herself by establishing a routine for herself while at home. By taking up new hobbies and giving herself a new structure, she could better grapple with the reality at hand.
“I would say [in] May I really started to make a routine for myself,” Kabano said. “I knew it wasn’t going to get better, so I started to wake up earlier. I started taking medicine to help me go to sleep, I’d wake up, I’d get ready, I’d eat breakfast, I’d do all of that. I crocheted a lot. I read more. But it helped. It was just small things that seem pretty basic [that helped]. Especially in situations like this where you couldn’t even go outside. It was really just me finding small resources. I was baking. I was just doing as much as I could to keep [myself] sane.”
Time for change
2020 was also a call for action as a result of the death of George Floyd. His passing revealed the presence of police brutality and resulted in protests all across the country calling for change and equality. The Black Lives Matter movement brought millions of Americans together, serving as testimony to humanity’s resilience and awareness to the events that prevail the fabric of society.
“The Black Lives Matter movement was a huge influence this year,” Guzman said. “Racism has always been a [problem], but this year more individuals showed their [awareness of it]. I don’t see this movement as a ‘trend.’ This is real life [and these are] real human beings. It’s not just something that comes and goes.”
This push for equal rights was not only an opportunity for individuals to further educate themselves, but to educate others about societal issues. Additionally, the events helped teens garner a new understanding of their world, as well as a newfound interest in politics.
“Everything is so normalized that you don’t think ‘Oh, that’s racist,’ or ‘Oh, that’s not OK to say,’” Bloom said. “The event has really opened my eyes to everything that happens [in the world]. I’m glad I’m growing and learning from this and I’m happy I am able to educate other people, as well.”
Amid the never-ending cancellations, perpetual uncertainty and general exhaustion of having to live through multiple historical events, students managed to foster positive experiences. In all its inconvenience, the pandemic offered an opportunity for growth and self-improvement.
“Before COVID happened, I really thought I was a patient person,” Kabano said. “But this year genuinely made me so patient, and it made me so much more appreciative of everything I have. It was [about] not taking life for granted [and] trying to spend as much [time] as I can with everybody I love.”
Students learned a myriad of lessons as a result of their time in quarantine. For Bloom, a key lesson learned was the importance of surrounding oneself with good, healthy company.
“Find the people who you know you can count on,” Bloom said. “The rest of the people are just fluff. They’re entertainment, they’re something you happen to come across in your everyday life. But finding a couple of people or one person you know you can always count on is so important. Because as much as we want to go through something alone and we’re like ‘Oh yeah, I want to be able to handle this by myself,’ you can’t. And I think it’s crazy to expect yourself to go through life and just be alone.”
Though only two months into the new year, overall, there is a general optimism felt by Velarde in regard to the remainder of the year ahead. Students hope 2020 will continue to serve as a reminder of life’s nature of uncertainty.
“During COVID, I realized nothing is guaranteed, except death and taxes,” Velarde said. “Nothing’s guaranteed. Not only that, but when you do get used to things, you start expecting things. And when you don’t necessarily get what you expect, that’s when a lot of negative emotions start going through you.”
Another key takeaway from the past year that students hold close is the inevitability of change. They cling to this truth in hopes of furthering their understanding of themselves and of the world around them.
“Already things have occurred that surprised me about myself and about others, but unexpected is good, sometimes,” Guzman said. “My life is changing as I [speak] and it does terrify me, but I’m learning to get accustomed to change. I am finally letting go of certain traumas and looking forward to creating the best version of myself, for myself.”