In mid-March 2020, I was having a wonderful week in school until I heard these words come out of my 8th-grade science teacher’s mouth: “So guys, if you haven’t heard about COVID-19, cases are rising so there’s a possible chance we’ll be out of school, and if it gets worse, we might not come back.” My friends and I didn’t seem to pay attention until she gave us a big packet of homework.
I was worried, but some of my classmates actually hoped for school to go online. I thought that they didn’t know what they were wishing for. I knew my classmates well; in two seconds they would be crying, wanting to see each other again. How were we going to get any work done online?
I tried to stay optimistic, hoping for the best; maybe I’d just be off school for a week. But later that day when I got home, my art/advisory teacher called me. She told me we weren’t going back to school for a long time and then she gave me my Google Classroom information, something I wasn’t familiar with. She also told me my other teachers would call to give me information for their classes as well.
From that point on, I knew COVID-19 was a serious matter.
First Days in the World of COVID Learning
Early during the lockdown, when my family and I watched the news and heard about rising coronavirus cases, my heart beat faster than normal. When I started online school, that created more stress.
In my math class, we had to type algebra symbols and signs and align problems on a screen as if we were writing on paper, which was a headache. My math teacher was still strict, so I tried to take her class extra seriously. But my four siblings were bunched up in the house doing their classes too, and it was like a zoo. Any time my math teacher called on me to speak, I had to give a sign to my siblings to let them know to quiet down before I unmuted and spoke. Still, my finger trembled and fear ran through me every time I pressed the unmute button, knowing how wild they can get.
In my other classes, online learning was pure boredom. I got too comfortable with the advantage of school not being in person and started sleeping late. I even fell asleep a couple times in class with my camera off.
One day, my math teacher was calling on me when I was deep asleep; I finally woke up to Ms. Clarke shouting, “Marylene! Marylene! Hello?!” Luckily, I was able to answer the question with the help of my friends, who were blowing my phone up with texts. Afterwards, I was embarrassed but more anxious because it felt like my math teacher’s intimidating aura was piercing me even through my little computer screen.
Finding Time for Bonding and Binging
Along with stress from school, the pandemic stressed us out at home. After seeing news reports of food running out in grocery stores, my mom said, “We need to start stocking up on food or else we are going to starve,” since there were seven people in my house. I began panicking and telling myself I didn’t think we were going to survive. Then, when I went outside, it felt like a whole new world with people wearing masks. I wanted to teleport miles away from any person who coughed. My bones always felt stiff when I was outside.
One way I was able to get through the pandemic was by becoming closer to my four sisters. Also, I had to help my little sister with her Pre-K classes every day at a certain time, which helped me balance my schedule. Using my time efficiently during the day, I could treat myself to binge-watching shows on Netflix every night.
As the first semester of online learning was winding down, students received emails to check our MySchools accounts for our high school acceptances. I logged in and saw I got into Beacon, my first choice! I had loved the layout of the school, and it had the sports and clubs I was interested in participating in like music, volleyball, basketball, and track. I screamed and my body filled with joy. That news felt like one of the only good things to happen during this crazy time we were in.
It showed me I could persevere and be rewarded if I used my time wisely and put all my effort into my application. When I told the good news to my family, they were jumping and rejoicing, shaking the whole house. The next day in class we all shared our news. Some people were happy and some were discouraged; my friends and I were having a blast in the chats congratulating and comforting each other. Shockingly, it almost felt like regular school.
A Subdued Graduation
When the school year was about to end, my teachers spoke hopefully about the school building potentially opening, raising my own hopes of still having in-person graduation and prom with my friends. They told us that over the summer we would be able to collect our things from our lockers—with masks of course—so I looked forward to that, too.
However, the dreams of attending these notable events were not to be, reinforcing the seriousness of the pandemic. We would have a virtual graduation, sadly. Teachers set up a time at a park close to my school for us to get our yearbooks, caps and gowns, as well as checks returning our money for other canceled activities. Holding these items, I walked back home with my sister, heartbroken. I felt like tossing out the whole bag of graduation items somewhere because what was the point?! When I got home, though, I looked through the yearbook and a rush of nostalgia hit me as I flipped through the pages.
On the day of graduation, I planned to take pictures with my friends in-person, but I messed up my hair. My sisters screamed at me in frustration. I started crying because my whole day was ruined. My friends ended up not waiting for me because our virtual ceremony was starting. At that point, I wanted to lock myself in the bathroom and break my phone and everything around me. But with our relationship stronger than ever, my sisters ended up fixing my hair. They cheered me up by taking a few pictures with me before my virtual ceremony. I felt better and I went back upstairs to join my Zoom graduation.
It seemed the universe tried to ruin my day again by giving me technical difficulties. But calmer now, my little sister ended up giving me her DOE school iPad that worked. I was a couple minutes late but at least I heard my name called along with my classmates’. I had a virtual session afterward to talk to friends from my class and that satisfied me. I took more pictures with my sisters and my day became better.
Slow Steps Toward Normalcy
Summer finally came and the pandemic seemed to lessen its grip on New York. Restaurants and other businesses finally opened up, but I was still cautious and wore my mask.
I started receiving emails from my high school to prepare me for my first year. I set up my school email address, submitted my student ID picture, and completed the summer homework I was assigned.
In the fall, my high hopes were tempered when we started school online. We ended up doing my whole freshman year remotely. But at least this time, I had a whole year of experience on how to adjust to online learning and to find comfort at home.
1. How was the transition into remote learning for Marylene and her siblings? What are some things Marylene had to learn during this transition?
2. How did Marylene’s perspective on online learning change when she got into her top choice high school?
3. Although the beginnings of the pandemic dramatically changed our lives, Marylene believes it gave her more time to build deeper bonds with her sisters. What are some of your unexpected positive experiences from the beginning of the pandemic?