When the pandemic hit
I was in my last year of middle school, in the 2nd semester of 8th grade when the pandemic hit. Like many other schools across the globe, The Washington International School (“WIS”) shut down, switching to complete virtual learning in order to protect the teachers, students, and families of WIS. During this time, I surprisingly enjoyed the online learning. Perhaps this is because we only had about 2 months left of school, and since we switched to online learning the teachers were being very relaxed and weren’t assigning as much work as they would have.
What school was like as the lockdown was initiated
One example of this would be my science class. At the time, we had been studying water purification and had just concluded a big project we had been working on, so my teacher completely switched up the final unit that we were supposed to do. Instead of learning about the “normal” aspects of science, she took a different approach, having the class meet on Google Meets to bake and cook together, while giving us a small chemistry lesson to go with each recipe. During this time, I made clafoutis, cookies, chocolate mug cakes, and much more.
I definitely resent this time as well however because the French section of my grade was supposed to go to Paris, France, while the Spanish section was supposed to go to Peru. Last minute, these trips were cancelled due to COVID and the lockdowns that were occurring all around the world. I remember hearing this news and feeling so upset and bummed, not only because this was a trip my friends and I had been looking forward to taking all year, and in all honesty, for most of middle school, but also because at the beginning of the year we had been given correspondents. The correspondents had come to DC and stayed with their correspondents for about 10 days in October, before leaving for France, and my friends and I all missed the correspondents, waiting impatiently for our turn to go to Paris. Yet this trip never happened. However, when looking back at it, the time went by very quickly, and soon enough, I was on summer vacation.
The summer of 2020
At WIS, summer vacation lasts for a couple months. During this time, I would normally do lots of summer camps, visit my family in Atlanta and in Japan, and go to another place around the world, such as Hawaii or the Galapagos, both places I had been to in the previous years before COVID. During that summer, we were in complete lockdown, with rather strict rules. I barely left the house, and I could not see any family or friends.
I turned 14 on May 16th, which was during the lockdown. I was positive I wasn’t going to do anything, and I was just going to go about my day normally, perhaps baking a cake or some cupcakes to celebrate. As it turns out, my parents had organized a small surprise party for me. We went down to a large open park that sits right in front of our home, and for the first time in months, I saw some of my friends. There were 3 families who had come, and they had set up a picnic to celebrate. Not to worry, we were all wearing proper masks, and stayed six-feet apart if not more from each other at all times.
After that, I didn’t see anyone for a very long period of time. The only method I had to communicate and “hang out” with my friends was to FaceTime or to use social media, and for that I am grateful. I am positive that if I hadn’t been able to do this I would have lost my mind. I filled the summer days by doing 500-1000 piece puzzles of different places around the world, watching TV shows and movies, baking, and talking to my friends online. What felt like an eternity later, I was allowed to go out and see friends, but doing so very cautiously and tentatively. I remember getting ready to leave the house to see family friends, and thinking to myself, “do I even remember how to carry a conversation?” and “this is going to be so weird to see them after so long”. However when I did see them all of those worries went out the window. It was as if no time had passed, and we were just having fun as normal. I remember distinctly going to their backyard, of course being with one another outside while wearing masks and social distancing, and roasting marshmallows to make s’mores. After this, my parents and I saw this family and one other family one or two times more before school started.
Becoming a highschooler and going back on campus in the time of COVID
Becoming a highschooler is a big deal. It means a large graduation from 8th to 9th grade, getting a bunch of new teachers, new kids, and new, more challenging courses. It means coming back from months of vacation, to everyday seeing all of your friends at once, having fun and learning at school. When you become a highschooler, you get more school dances, more privileges, and all in all it’s entirely new. This is how it was supposed to be, but because of COVID, I did not get this. Yes, some things did change. Yes we got new teachers and courses, and yes we got new teachers, but we didn’t get our graduation, and no we didn’t get to see and hug and celebrate being back with everyone as we normally would. It was upsetting, and quite frankly, lonely. One thing that might contribute to this however is that I am an only child, so I don’t have a “built in best friend” aka a sibling like some of my friends do.
For the first couple months of school, we were completely virtual, and I remember having to set up my room differently so that I would do school from there. I remember meeting and seeing all my new teachers online instead of in person for the first time. I remember not seeing my friends in person, but rather seeing them all through the Zoom screen. Everything felt off, but eventually, it started to feel like the new normal.
What felt like an eternity later, the school announced that we were going to be going hybrid. At first I was quite confused, not understanding how this was supposed to work. The first step was to be divided and placed into one of two cohorts. The red, or the blue. I was placed in the red cohort, along with the majority of my friends, which I thought was amazing. The second step was to have a school wide assembly on how it was supposed to work. During this assembly, I remember the dean was explaining the schedule of how on campus and off campus would work. The dean introduced terms such as “synchronous” and “asynchronous”, which meant nothing to me until it was explained. Our school day is divided into 5 different periods. The schedule would be normal for the people on campus, who would go about their day normally, while following an already set up flow system.
The Tregaron campus at WIS is vast, so the school devised a system of paths to take to certain buildings. This meant that you could only go a certain number of ways to get to certain buildings, and within each building, staircases and hallways would be used to go up or down, and in and out of the building. The students at home however would only join Zoom for certain periods, hence having synchronous and asynchronous classes. The synchronous classes would be 1st, 3rd, and 4th period, meaning during those times we would join the class through Zoom. The other 2 periods would be asynchronous, meaning we would just be assigned work, and have to do it on our own. I found this system to be useful, but also unnecessary because the objective of having both sync and async classes was for the async classes to be time away from the computer screen. This did not work out whatsoever though because the teachers would assign an overwhelming amount of work, meaning sitting at the computer screen for longer than the given hour.
For the people at school, there was also a system put into place. In addition, the school announced that we would no longer have access to the lockers, we would no longer be allowed to wait in the hallways for class, we would eat lunch outside under massive tents, while being spread out and 6-feet apart, unless there is very bad weather, during which we are only allowed to eat in certain classrooms. The school also does COVID testing for each student at WIS on the first and last day of each week, and emails the results the day we are tested. These systems are useful, and while it was tiring and confusing at first, I adjusted and adapted so that this system and the way school works now feels alarmingly normal, and is second nature.
The pros and cons of being both on campus and on Zoom
During the second semester, the transition was very smooth, and I had the opportunity and privilege to meet my teachers in person, rather than seeing them on Zoom for months before meeting them. For most of my classes, there are no more than 5 people in the class, although for my French class, I was the only person in class for weeks. The curriculum has been slowed down a bit for most of my classes, and teachers have had to alter their schedules to accommodate for the changes. I have grown quite used to the systems, and frankly, I like having the small classes, because there are much fewer distractions, and class is more fun and I feel I get more out of it.
I have heard many tales of Zoom-bombers, and I thought I would share an experience I had with this. To be clear, this happened once, and then the school made changes to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. It started during one of our upper school assemblies, where unknowingly, one of the co-hosts let in a Zoom-bomber. I will not say the name is it was rather vulgar, but when they joined, they stayed silent for about a minute or so before playing the song “Wap”, by Cardi B. If you are opposed to songs with swear words and frankly sexual references, I do not recommend listening to it. After this song played, the intruder stopped playing, but wasn’t kicked out because it was unclear who had done it. The intruder started playing the song again, and this happened a few more times, before one of the co-hosts kicked them off. I remember I was at home this day, and my phone was blowing up with texts and snapchats about this incident, from individual people and multiple different group chats.
The teachers eventually got back on track, and we weren’t disturbed again during the assembly. This is not the end though. The class I had after the assembly was my Geography class. During this class, the intruder was able to join our Zoom, and played the same song yet again. My teacher was furious, but everyone else was trying not to laugh. That person was kicked off again, and to my knowledge hasn’t done anything more.
Traveling and spending time with friends during the pandemic
It is a bummer that the field trips that we would normally take for different classes have not happened, and will not happen, but it makes sense, and I understand why they don’t do them. When I am on campus, school feels normal, and we must always wear our masks unless we are eating lunch. The masks feel like they are a part of me, and I feel odd not wearing one when I am outside. As for dances and school wide events, those were all cancelled, and have not and will not happen. I find this very disappointing because it’s a lot of fun to hang out with friends and get ready for dances and just spend the night with my friends.
For a little while now, I have been meeting up with friends outside of school during the weekends. What normally happens is we will meet up at a park nearby, or at one of our houses, and go for a walk together and spend the afternoon together. It is a lot of fun, and I feel more in touch with the rest of the world. I play the piano outside of school, with a program called Levine. The schedule hasn’t changed since before COVID, and I still have my lessons every Wednesday. It was a considerable change to get used to, but I think my teacher and I have gotten the hang of it. I am progressing and learning new pieces, while still performing for others at Zoom recitals as well. It can get a bit difficult to understand what my teacher wants me to change or improve upon when it comes to small details, because over Zoom, the little things such as dynamics can be lost, and go unheard. Sometimes, my teacher will hear something I did not do, or vice versa, which makes it challenging from time to time. Having said this, I am also at a level where if my teacher asks me to change something, and I cannot hear the change on her piano because of Zoom, I understand what she wants me to change based on the terms she uses.
I have not had the privilege to go back and visit my family in Japan, but I have had the privilege to visit my family in Atlanta. Not to worry however, I have driven down most of the time, though my father and I have flown down once. The flight wasn’t too bad, and the system that Delta has in place (a vacant middle seat) seems to be working pretty well.
It has been a little over one year since COVID caused worldwide lockdowns, and since then I have gotten used to the changes, and am unexpectedly enjoying my life right now. I have been able to hit a balance of speaking to my friends I am unable to meet up with, to my friends who I don’t see in person at school, and my family and family friends who don’t go to my school all together. I have baked many desserts, such as brownies, a variety of cookies, cupcakes, banana breads, chocolate chip banana breads, clafoutis, pecan pies, cobblers, and have cooked pizzas, pastas, and have made tonkatsu, okonomiyaki, and shabu-shabu with my parents.
When things go back to normal, I primarily want to go to Japan to see my family. I would also like to see my friends without having to be socially distanced, and to be able to meet them without masks. I hope to meet more of my friends indoors, where we can watch movies, make food, and physically be closer to one another. Finally, I wish to travel to London, or Holland, and see more of the world.
Lives in Virginia, she is a 9th grade student at the Washington International School (WIS).
She enjoys spending time with friends, baking and cooking, and playing the piano.