A Student’s Perspective: Disruption, Skepticism and Hope During the Pandemic

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The American College Test (ACT) scheduled for July 18 was, for many, their first chance to take this notoriously pressure-packed exam after its cancellation in April due to the pandemic.

It was a restart—another chance for kids to get this test behind them or, even, improve on their score. Unfortunately, the July exam met a similar fate. It too was cancelled in many locations nationally—nearly every testing site in the tri-state area delaying the test once more. Thousands of students across the nation were informed by email a few weeks before the scheduled exam.

Though as July 18 came and went, it became apparent that those of us who received a notice of cancellation were actually the lucky ones. CNN reported that as many as 1,400 students arrived at their testing locations that Saturday morning, only to be met with a notice taped to the door informing them that the test they had prepared so heavily for was cancelled—postponed once again, the endless wait extended.

Stressors such as this are affecting students nationwide during the Coronavirus pandemic. Every generation has had its struggles as teenagers, but living through a pandemic is a very real and acute reality for kids. And it’s had its impact on me.

Tess von Brachel

To understand just how disruptive the pandemic has been, all you have to do is look at the impact it’s had on our daily schedules. We have all had to experience major changes and even cancellations of once-routine events, but the coronavirus has seemed to have a particular effect on students.

For example, most students (60%, according to the 2010 U.S. Census) participate in at least one after-school activity, whether that be sports, music, a club or all three. While most kids’ after-school schedules are typically jammed packed, it’s easy for kids to acclimate to busy routines.

But that all changed when schools were cancelled. Schedules came to a halt. Some activities were permanently cancelled. Those who could manage to participate online did, though most would agree that it just wasn’t the same. The loss of not only school, but the activities that came after, has been devastating for many. Most students, like me, long for the day we can return to a type of normality.

It’s fair to say that, at least in the tri-state area, things have improved.

Certain leniencies were allowed as we entered summer. For instance, the strict stay-at-home policy was no longer in effect, and people were free to enjoy socializing—so long as they wore a mask and remained six feet apart when possible. Outdoor dining became more common, and classic Maplewood hotspots such as the pool opened midsummer with restrictions, allowing people to enjoy their favorite summer traditions to an extent. People were also enjoying their summer vacations to the best of their abilities. The Jersey shore became even more popular this year, as people cooped up for months in places like New York City, looked for an escape.

Beyond leisure activities, many people wouldn’t let the virus prevent them from the fight against racial injustice. The murder of George Floyd in May threw fuel on burning embers, inspiring many to use their voice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and racial equality. The protests, many of which were led by students, were well organized, spirits were high and they echoed past marches—masks being one of the stand-out differences.

And that’s the point, after all. They’re all important activities, considering the situation, though something is just off. Masks, distancing, extreme caution, they’re all reminders that things remain in a kind of fog–they feel ephemeral.

Add to that, with every new activity comes the risk that this pandemic will stick around even longer.

This feels especially true for vacations, as the news media reports practically daily that people at the shore continue to ignore social distancing guidelines, putting more and more people at risk. While activities like going to the beach do create some sort of emotional reprieve, they are creating more and more questions that, naturally, remain unanswered. And the rise in cases nationally only intensifies worries about the near future regarding school, testing, and resuming those basic, but ever-so-important, everyday activities.

So, what do we do from here?

I can speak for many other teenagers like me who are being told to look at the bright side, that it would help: well, it isn’t that easy.

The future remains as uncertain to us as ever.

We’ll try to put a good face on it—to adapt. But it remains a difficult reality. I think it’s important to remind ourselves of this. There aren’t a lot of answers out there we can trust right now. We have hope, but we are skeptical. The political and economic realities have caused great strain on families, concerned about the November election, their jobs and just making ends meet. And the social injustice we see not only on the news but in our very town make us even more skeptical.

But yes, there’s hope too.

That things can and will get better. Sure, time spent at home can be overwhelmingly long and foreign, but it has also given me time to truly reflect on what’s best in my life, and given me the ability to appreciate some of the ‘little things’ I may have overlooked before. And, I can always spend a little more time preparing for those standardized tests, though I really don’t know whether I will be able to take one at all. Perhaps, most important, I can still see my friends, despite the thin facial coverings separating us. I feel like I have to keep it all moving forward because, one day, I know this too will be behind us.

Tess von Brachel is a rising senior at Columbia High School in Maplewood, NJ.

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