Features

COVID impacts each class differently: Grade-based reflections on a socially distanced school year

By LILIAN MOHR

From a global pandemic that has popularized masks and coined the term “socially-distanced,” all the way to a presidential election that left the country forever changed, 2020 and 2021 have proven themselves to impact almost every aspect of life. 

Socially, young children have been learning the basics of sharing and making friends from behind a computer screen, while teenagers deal with the overwhelming presence of social media in their lives now consumed by technology. Student athletes are missing out on multiple seasons of sports, altering their athletic futures and scholarship opportunities. Performing arts students have not been able to perform in a play in front of an audience in school theaters since last March. Ask around, and almost everyone can find a way their lives have been changed this year. The question remains: does one grade, generation or group have it worse than another, or have some even benefited from these unique experiences? 

Dylan Watson, a freshman at Redlands East Valley, ended her eighth grade year in middle school through distance learning and was on track to begin her first year in high school. However, 2020 had different plans for her and the rest of the incoming class of 2024. 

“I feel that the worst part is not being able to meet new people and the learning aspect in my opinion isn’t the best,” says Watson, “But the best part is that I can sleep in for an extra hour because if we were in person, then we would start at 7:30.” 

She adds,“I think that next year, being a sophomore, I’m going to feel like I’m in the same position as the incoming freshman. I’m not going to know my way around the campus, so I won’t know where everything is.” 

This idea of having two full classes of “freshman-like” students on campus in the 2021 school year is one that seems to be one of the biggest impacts of distance learning on the 2024 and incoming 2025 classes. Although one is academically a year ahead, they are both entering into a school that they haven’t yet spent a day on campus. 

Watson says, “We still hopefully have three other years left, while for seniors this is their last time to make everlasting memories with the people in the class of 21′ before they step foot into their next chapter.”

Brooklyn Rios, a sophomore at REV, says she feels the positives of distance learning for her have been in “comfy clothes and sleeping in,” but the drawbacks are the amount of “homework and staring at a screen for so long every day.” 

Rios also speaks on the impacts that this year has had on her socially, saying, “I have not been able to interact with people in the classroom, at lunch or during passing periods. I feel when I see people now, it is always really awkward in evaluating the situation and it’s difficult not to hug someone you haven’t seen in forever because you are unsure how strict or instruct they are about COVID.”

Rios is a part of the graduating class of 2023, meaning she will be entering into what is arguably the most challenging year of high school next school year. If in-person instruction occurs in August 2021, this will mean that Rios and the other students in her grade will have only been on campus for a little over one semester before they enter into their junior year of high school. 

Rios says, “I feel like understanding topics that carry over from this year to next year will be difficult. I feel like learning has been very difficult and applying this knowledge next year will be arduous.”

Along with sharing her own experiences, she shares her opinion on the other grade levels. She says, “The class of 2021 definitely got the short end of the stick. They missed half of their junior year and most likely all of senior year. They won’t have a normal prom, grad-night or graduation. I think it sucks for them because senior year is such a big deal and they won’t have senior nights for their sports, final performances, paper toss day and so much more.”

 As more and more of the traditional senior year milestones pass by, uncelebrated this year, she also discusses a common topic: the comparison between the class of 2020 to the class of 2021.

“Last year’s class of 2020 got so many accommodations because everyone felt really bad about them not getting to finish senior year; however, class of 2021 got more stress with school and they are not getting as much sympathy as class of 2020 got. People kind of forgot that they have it really hard too.”

Several members of this year’s Redlands East Valley senior class pictured at the annual senior sunrise. The class of 2021 has attempted to organize as many of the traditional senior events as possible given this year’s unique circumstances and the senior sunrise is one that was able to be done outdoors. (Ethic News/ Photo credit to Jack Tetrault) 

Ashley Gonalez, a sophomore at Citrus Valley High School, says that “this year has impacted my social life a ton. I began to text people less and stopped talking to a lot of people. But I think it helped me realize more about myself and get closer with the people I still socialized with.” 

Ali Sirk-Bun, currently a junior at REV, brings light to some of the major impacts that this school year has made outside of the academic factors. 

Sirk-Bun says that the best parts of this school year for her have been the “new improvements regarding addressing awareness of human equality” at school and within the district. 

After racially-charged incidents occurred at the end of first semester at REV this year, new initiatives towards progress on campus have been started with organizations such as the Wildcats for Change. 

“Since I am a junior, I will try to be as spirited, hard-working and have as much fun as possible next year to make up for lost memories this year,” said Sirk-Bun, “the seniors this year have it worse. It’s their last year at school and instead of going to dances, creating memories with friends and carrying out their last year; they’re trapped behind a computer as their last year of high-school.” 

As the days of what will be the last semester of high school for the class 2021 tick by and distance learning continues, Elijan Park, a senior at REV, reflects on the impacts of the past few months of school for him and his graduating class. 

“I think seniors definitely have it worse this year. The last year of high school is normally filled with events but since it is distanced learning we are unable to enjoy our last year.”

Park also discusses how challenging the college application process has been for him this year due to the circumstances. He says, “I think the worst part of this school year was trying to navigate college applications and other questions I may have virtually. It would have been much easier in person.”

With no clear end to the pandemic to pin-point, the class of 2021 has also begun to consider the possible reality of their first year in college being altered. Park says “I think my next school year will be a lot easier if things stay the same since I already am accustomed to online learning so if it has to continue next year I think I will be well prepared. But I think transitioning into in person learning may be the difficult part if that happens.”

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