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By Mark Gregory
Editorial Director 

Students tell stories of learning in a pandemic

 

Last updated 7/27/2021 at 6:29pm

For more than a year, students have been forced to learn in a way unlike any time in history.

From learning strictly online to partial days with masks and social distancing to hybrid methods — it has been a whirlwind for young learners across the country.

As the CDC and state officials set guidelines and school districts implemented plans with the input of teachers, parents, administrators and support staff, often times the group that was left without a voice was the one that was most impacted — the students themselves.

A group of sixth graders at William B. Orenic Intermediate School in Shorewood told their stories of learning in a pandemic and they all sounded eerily similar.

Tanking grades, anxiety and depression impacted many of the students during the pandemic learning process.

“This year was so hard on me, and I’m sure it was hard on everyone else. I was a straight-A student before,” said student Gianna Sandon. “I was at home and I would just say, ‘I’ll do the work later,’ but I would get distracted and never do the work.

“I didn’t get to know my classmates. I didn’t get to interact with my classmates. I was stuck at home and I got so upset and it gave me anxiety. I tried to make the best of it. It was hard to focus on work, and even when I was able to go back in person, it was still hard because you had to wear a facemask and even then, you can’t interact wit your friends. Even at the end of the school year in fifth grade, I didn’t get to say good-bye to my friends.”

Missing milestones was something that was thought of as only impacting high school seniors and some eighth graders as graduations, prom and athletics were cancelled at the end of the 2020 school year, but those losses had residual effects.

“My whole life started going downhill. The first time I felt that was when I saw my sister holding her diploma and looking at the TV (for graduation) with a tear running down her face, because she knew she was never going to experience going on the stage and called up like every other generation before. I felt the same way about my fifth grade year because I knew I was never going back and I was never going to finish my year,” said Jaden Lagenero. “I gave up on school. I was like someone doing a handstand and my arm gave loose. I was trying to balance myself and I ended up on the floor.

“I was used to my house being a safe place for relaxing. I would prioritize my time and do homework at school, so when I got home, I could do what I wanted. But school invaded my home space. I welcomed it and didn’t know what to expect.”

Simple things such as seeing friends and a few minutes of interaction during a passing period can have a huge impact on a student’s day, but for students new to a school, it means even more.

“I am new to the school. Every morning in homeroom, I hear the kids talking, but I have no one to talk to because I really don’t have friends here,” said Zena Nathaniel. “I am sure that will change next year.”

Nathaniel, like many students, elected not to go back for various reasons.

For Alex Brtva, the sacrifice was worth it to protect his dad.

“At the beginning, I wanted to stay home because I didn’t want to take a chance to get COVID and get my dad sick because he has cancer,” Brtva said. “But, my grades started dropping a lot and I felt like sometimes we had more work virtually that when we were in school. It is hard when my little brother is around and he has his Zoom and Google Meets and we have two meetings going on at the same time.”

Brtva also did not like the cyber tool designed to keep students engaged and focused. He felt tools like that did not take into consideration the time it takes students to preform tasks or the order they may prefer to tackle them in.

“I don’t like the GoGuardian that they use to watch us because just because we don’t move our mouse for 14 minutes doesn’t mean we aren’t paying attention,” Brtva said. “What if there is a paper to read and then you have to do a sheet — so maybe we aren’t moving our mouse because we are reading.”

Brtva is not the only student that felt like it was more difficult to get help while remote learning.

“I feel like I haven’t been able to get a lot of help. Now that some people are in person and some are still home, I think it is very hard to get the help that I need because I don’t want to just interrupt the whole class and do it in front of everyone,” Nathaniel, who is still e-learning. “I couldn’t reach out as much and I didn’t know what to do. It is harder to ask for help when I am not in person. My grades were much better when I was in person.”

“I am looking forward to seeing teacher and being able to get help from them,” Koby Stennis added.

Learning from home also came with a lot of distractions and additional stressors on the students.

“My grades have dropped. I usually got As and Bs and now I got Cs and Ds on tests. It is hard to do the work. It was easier when it was on paper,” said Haylee Rogers. When I am in school, I am not distracted by my cell phone or anything. It is also easier not to cheat when you are in school because people can text the answers when you are at home.”

“I was an A-plus student and my grades went down and then they changed at least a little once I got back in school,” said Antonio Valadez-Mustonen. “I have two brothers at home and at times, we would be in the same room and that was a distraction.”

Some of the distractions are ones most sixth graders never knew prior to learning remote.

“I would rather be in the classroom environment because that gives me more happiness. My journey had a lot of ups and downs,” said Autumn Helder. “Being at home put a lot of pressure on my mom and when I was back in school, it was easier because she didn’t have to worry about me being home alone for hours each day. It was pretty chaotic at the beginning of the year. I don’t know if it was just me, but I got rally confused. If the teacher didn’t post a Google Classroom, they posted Google Slides for the lesson and at times, I didn’t understand the lesson.

“My grades dropped tremendously and I was at home and I had a lot of distractions. I was more focused on helping my little sister with her homework and I would forget about mine because I didn’t want her to get in trouble, but then I got in trouble. She is the best little sister and I am thankful for her and she was always there to remind me to keep smiling even when times were hard and I had COVID and I felt like giving up.”

Helder was not the only student to be directly impacted by the virus.

“I got COVID in the winter and I remember going into my bedroom and crying because I thought I may not have a chance at living, but I had very little symptoms and it was a very weak COVID,” Lagenero said.

“I thought COVID-19 was a lesson for all the kids to be more careful. My grandpa got COVID and died, but he was already very old,” said Freddy Navarrete.

The end of 2021 is a bittersweet ending for the sixth-graders at Orenic Intermediate School.

For students like Valadez-Mustonen, who will not be attending the Troy District next year, it is a virtual or social distanced good-bye to teachers and friends.

For students like Nathaniel, who will be in her second year in the district next year, she looks forward to her first real experience at Orenic.

Helder just wants to be able to breathe in the classroom when school resumes in August.

“I look forward to not breathing with a mask on. Because the school has a mask mandate, I have to wear it, but I have severe asthma,” she said. “It is keeping me safe, but it also is risking my life because of the asthma.”

Overall, the students want others to hear their voices.

“Other kids are facing this and I want them to know that they are not alone and that we are all facing the same thing,” Navarrete said. “Also, we want the adults to know what we went through.”

 

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