Three years ago when I was 13, everything in my life was going well. I had social interactions every day at school and lots of recreational activities afterward.
I went swimming twice a week and practiced the breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle, backstroke, and was learning the sidestroke. My favorite time was during Sunday sessions; we had relay races split into three teams with five swimmers doing different strokes. Then at night I played in a YMCA basketball league where the games were super intense and physical.
Then, on December 31, 2019, I heard for the first time on the news about a reported case of COVID-19. I thought it was one big joke and didn’t pay attention as my family went off to the Poconos. I didn’t think about Covid while snow tubing, skiing, and rollerskating. I was more concerned about falling down while skiing!
In early 2020, I continued my normal routines like having family friends over for dinner. We cooked wings and my mom made mac and cheese and chicken. After, my friends and I watched the NBA All-Star Game or went upstairs to my room and played Xbox One.
On other nights we went to other friends’ houses and played Nintendo Switch and other video games. I also saw The Invisible Man with my best friend and his family. I didn’t know this would be the last movie I saw for a while.
A Harsh Snap of Reality
By March 2020, COVID cases were increasing. Soon, my school called and said classes were virtual until further notice. At first I was shocked, then happy because I didn’t have to wake up at 6 am. But in a few days, everything else got canceled including my basketball league and swim club. My everyday schedule was gone. I felt like the whole world shut down around me.
This is when I started taking the virus more seriously. On March 16, I officially started virtual classes and had a hard time adapting. Waking up and feeling motivated to attend class was hard, and not having one-on-one time with teachers affected my learning.
Socially, I was missing out on a lot, too. It wasn’t until late May that I got to see family and friends again. We met at a park for a surprise birthday party for me. We ate Popeyes and cake, then played basketball.
Eighth-grade graduation was on Zoom, and even though I won a student appreciation award, it wasn’t the same as getting it on stage and in person. Everybody said their goodbyes and said to have a good summer. Normally I love summer vacation, but now it was just me and my mom at home trying to stay safe from COVID.
In September I started 9th grade, but things got worse. I still couldn’t get myself on schedule and my grades were worsening. I missed personal interactions. This struck me particularly hard on Halloween, a holiday I enjoyed. I asked my mom to get lots of candy, but nobody came to our door.
The Return of My Hopes and Dreams
I became addicted to playing video games and rarely hung out with friends. Soon, I never wanted to do anything. I was isolated and didn’t go outside my house. It took my mom to push me to go outside again.
“Elijah, stop being so addicted to the stupid Xbox and go outside and get some fresh air!” she said to me.
By the spring of 2021, places around my neighborhood began to open up again and that made me happy. One month later I got my first COVID-19 vaccination. I was unsure of taking it at first, but am glad I did. We also began hybrid learning around this time and I was excited to be back in a school building at least part-time. I met all of my new teachers and counselors in person and I saw my school friends.
Being in school helped a lot. My grades improved and I had more confidence with social interactions and being around teachers who could help me focus. I was also less distracted than when I was on Zoom. I continued this into summer school, which I attended full-time in person and led to me getting my highest grades in math, a subject I usually struggle with.
I even started to do more activities in the summer that I had missed out on during the first year in the pandemic, like seeing the UniverSoul Circus. At the end of summer vacation we took a family trip to Ocean City, Maryland. But perhaps things were getting back to normal too quickly. I found it shocking that nobody was wearing masks. I thought to myself, Don’t people still know that they can catch COVID?
My school schedule became even more stable when I started my sophomore year, because we were full-time in-person again. I feel more on track with school and am in a better place now, but am worried about things reverting back to two years ago when the pandemic changed my life. It bugs me that now you don’t have to wear masks to school, and I feel like COVID cases are going to rise again. Since I hated virtual learning and it had a huge impact on my grades and on my interactions with people, I don’t want that to happen.
Lessons Learned and Moving Forward
Despite other people’s decisions, I am trying to live my life to the fullest, while also being safe. I cherish vacations with my family even more now. I can go to the gym for basketball by scheduling ahead. I went rock climbing for the first time and even saw a Yankees game for the first time since I was 8. At all these places, I wear a mask so I can continue enjoying the fruits of life.
I want to thank my math teacher Mr. Lorenzo, who worked with me one-on-one every week and kept me on track. Ms. Demarco also helped me with ELA and other programs.
I look forward to this coming school year. I got three vaccination doses and still keep my mask on all the time. I think back to when I heard about that first case of COVID and didn’t take it seriously, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It made so many people sick but also had other negative effects: my education and social maturity were affected. It was a tough thing to experience. After all these changes in my life, I learned that sometimes when you think something is a joke it can be really serious.
1. How did Elijah’s daily life change at the start of the COVID pandemic?
2. What did Elijah learn about himself during quarantine, and how did remote learning impact him?
3. How did Elijah find a balance between staying safe and interacting with others during the peak of the pandemic? How did you take care of yourself both physically and socially during the peak of the pandemic?