By Siani Elliott
George Washington Carver High School of Engineering & Science
For teens, the 2019-2020 school year felt like a fever dream. One minute they were all in school. The next they were locked away in their houses for what felt like decades, seeing their teachers and peers through computer screens and watching their lives from their living rooms.
When students at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science first found out schools were shutting down, they were un-bothered and even happy.
“I didn’t think it was going to last forever,” said Cameron Roberts, an 11th grade student.
“It was a blessing, because I didn’t have to go to school,” said fellow junior Moses Benett. “Summer was on the way.”
“I didn’t really mind it at first,” said Damaris Williams, also an 11th grader. “I thought it was just two weeks off.”
Nothing could have prepared students for what came next.
The world around them changed drastically with constant social unrest, riots, and pure isolation. Remote learning school dragged on. What started off as just two weeks turned into two months, then a whole year and seven months of their school lives lived fully online.
The isolation has left its mark on adults and children alike. Feelings of joy and the thrill of time off turned into a daily testing of patience and mental health.
“At first, I was a little happy,” said junior Verity Scott. “Later on, I was getting a little upset because I wouldn’t be able to see my friends. Everything was starting to get me slowly into my depressive mood.”
She said the hardest thing to adjust to was being inside all the time.
“Like I am an introverted person. I do like being by myself,” she said. “But it was just me, myself and I 24/7 with nothing to do.”
Racial tensions added another level to the anxiety for children in minority groups.
“It was kind of hard for me to just sit there and watch, knowing that I can’t really do anything without the fear of getting COVID and the fear of police brutality,” said Roberts, an African American student.
Teachers and counselors noticed a decline in student effort during the pandemic. They also started to feel the weight of their experiences as well.
“We all developed bad academic habits during virtual school, being in our own homes and left to our devices,” said Alexander Leed, a 10th grade chemistry teacher. “It’s been tough to return to normal.”
Teachers said the virtual environment was a difficult change for them.
“It was isolating,” Leed said, sounding defeated. “My favorite part of teaching is the interactions I have with the students. It felt lonely sometimes on that Zoom.”
Teachers also found themselves needing to have many difficult discussions with students. Conversations about constant unrest and bigotry seemed to happen weekly.
“It occupied a lot of class time, but I thought it would be valuable, because to teach as if it wasn’t happening wouldn’t have felt okay,” said Geoffrey Winikur, an English teacher.
Tyrone Neal, a school counselor, said that as a Black man, seeing what was happening and trying to reassure students was hard.
“How can you tell someone who’s seeing this on TV to still have hope and be encouraged?” he said.
He also was concerned about students’ overall well-being during the pandemic.
“The thing that worried me as a counselor was when I didn’t see students, or teachers reported that they couldn’t get in contact with students,” he said.
When the school district announced the return of in-person learning, some students and teachers were happy, some were upset, and some were apprehensive.
“I loved the transition because I was ready to get back. So it was really nice,” said student Williams.
Winikur, the English teacher, said he felt “a tremendous amount of anxiety” around going back.
Scott, an 11th grade student, felt mixed emotions.
“At first I didn’t want to go, but then again I did because I missed my friends,” she said. But she also said she felt immense anxiety because the pandemic was still ongoing.
The transition back was a bittersweet victory for most, even with all of the anxiety around it. Still, children and adults alike are trying to readjust and find small gems in a large coal mine.