During the second week of my eighth-grade spring semester, I had my first rehearsals for the school musical, worked on the yearbook and went to student council meetings. I registered for high school classes and made plans for the spring formal. I studied for upcoming tests and wrote my speeches for third-quarter presentations.
It was a normal week. I didn’t know it would be the last one.
Over the weekend that followed, the school announced that we wouldn’t return to classes until March 30; but as the days passed, that date shifted further and further into April. Now, after deeming normal school “unfeasible” at my junior high, the rest of the semester will be conducted digitally. Teachers in gloves and facemasks cleaned out our lockers and sent everything home in trash bags.
And as I stood in our laundry room, sanitizing each of my books and binders that I used just a short time earlier, I realized how unplanned all of this was — how quickly this whirlwind consumed my reality. Days later, we began an experience that none of us could have predicted last fall — distance learning.
Being a teenager is tough.
I know that adults often reminisce on their last naïve and carefree years — their final days of freedom. But most also remember the real challenges that saturated them. With stress and hormones and uncertainty, young adults struggle in normal times to define their priorities, interests, ambitions, and, ultimately, who they are.
Imagine trying to steady that internal chaos during a pandemic.
The COVID-19 panic has dismantled our opportunities and brought our aspirations to a standstill. Social distancing, though necessary, means our high school seniors won’t walk the graduation stage in May, and eighth-graders might miss their moving up ceremonies. Our long-anticipated first high school days are also threatened. Sixth-graders won’t tour the junior high. Spring sports mostly were over before they began.
As a kid of the early 2000s, I’ve seen the American school system raise students for 21st-century traumas, from active-shooter drills to grim images of our climate change-ravaged future. But this novel coronavirus is the encounter with disaster that no one expected.
Homeschooling is not an experience that an entire generation of students had ever tasted, and it’s a change that many are struggling to adjust to.
I’m a student anticipating my freshman year. Mere weeks ago, I had a crammed schedule and a hefty workload, and I loved it that way. I was buried in student government, theater, the mentoring program, fundraising and athletics. At times, I pondered how I would manage, but that was better than wondering if I’d ever do it again.
The pandemic has kept me from engaging in what I love during my last months of junior high. We had so many eager plans for the future: Now thousands of middle-schoolers, like me, are locked out of their last moments of primary education.
Where we used to sit with our peers in buzzing classrooms, we now stare, alone, into laptop screens. Where we once raised curious hands, we now type confused emails to teachers. Where we would have been wrapped in the company of our friends, we now bicker with siblings. After more than a month of self-isolation, it feels that the metaphorical ash has settled where flames once glowed.
Yet, in another sense, many of us are fortunate and thriving, despite COVID-19. This has provoked a newfound appreciation for the freedoms we take for granted, and that will only grow when we start taking steps toward normality. It’s also proven that we’re more resilient than we believe, and when the next hurricane hits, we’ll be even more prepared to combat it.
Though we’ve struggled during quarantine, we’ll live to tell this tale, and many more that follow it.
Adelaide Evans is a Seattle-born Australian-American in the eighth grade — class of 2024. She is a news intern with the Southeast Express and hopes to make a career in medicine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.