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School in the Time of the Coronavirus

With the start of the new year, we can all admit, that last year sure wasn’t easy thanks to the pandemic. COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on everyone across the globe and many organizations have had to adapt to the ever changing situation. Here at YELL, we realized just how much it would impact our operations and program delivery when we were told last year over the spring break that no one would be able to return to the classroom. We quickly pivoted and changed all the upcoming activities so they would be delivered virtually as the safety and health of all our teachers and students are top priority. We could tell how much everything, from quarantine to attending class and presenting pitches virtually was having an impact on our YELL students, but we are so proud of just how resilient our students have been and are continuing to be. Since things are still not back to the way they were, we decided to invite a couple of our YELL Ambassadors to give us their 2 cents on the pandemic and just how they’re learning to adapt to the “new normal”.

My name is Jesse Pound (JP), I am a first-year engineering student at Queen’s University and I did the YELL program when I was in grade 10, so in the 2017/2018 year. I did the program at Queen Elizabeth Secondary, and my (amazing) YELL teacher was Brenden Graham!

My name is Parnian Ashrafi (PA) and I am a 12th grader IB student at West Vancouver Secondary School and I was part of the YELL program last school year (2019/2020), in the most unpredictable and confusing year of my life to say the least. 

It’s been about 9 months since COVID-19 really hit us here at home. How did you feel about everything?

(JP) I definitely never expected my final year of high school to end the way it did. I remember vaguely hearing something about a coronavirus in December, but didn’t really understand or pay attention to it until February, and I wasn’t very worried about it until March. I remember the last week before spring break feeling very odd. We were all doing everything we normally did, but everywhere I went I heard people talking about the virus and what might happen after the break. There was talk of school shutting down for a few weeks, but I didn’t think that would happen. When it was announced that school would be closed indefinitely, I was shocked. In a way, that moment marked the transition to a new normal for me. All of a sudden, my IB exams were cancelled. My prom was no longer happening. I realized that March 14, 2020 had been my last day of high school, and I hadn’t even known it! Luckily, the summer internship that I had been waiting for since nearly two years before all this was not cancelled (though it became partially remote), so I kept pretty busy over the summer. 

(PA) If you asked me a year ago whether a virus could take our whole world on a rollercoaster ride of dystopia, I’d most likely check for a concussion. Right now, it feels like the new normal, wearing masks feels like part of my daily clothing, social distancing is the new norm of hanging out. Being safe has always been a priority, but now more than ever, health and safety is my number 1 priority. Everything happened in a blink of an eye, it felt impossible to keep up, yet as time passed and I adapted, I felt more comfortable with this new reality. One of the main lifestyle changes I implemented for myself was really educating myself on health, and what it means for my personal experience. Whether it was through new workouts, going hiking, trying new dishes, or painting, I truly accommodated health and well-being in every single activity I did. 

Both of you are back at school now (in some way). How is that going?

(JP) The news that my university would be delivering content completely online was disappointing, but expected. Since September, I have been adjusting to online university and it honestly hasn’t been a bad experience. I’m glad that I get to spend more time at home with my family (and my dogs!) and I find that I have more free time with classes being online. I am very thankful for everything my university has done to make the transition to online learning as smooth as possible and for the amount of support they have made available throughout the process. However, I am definitely looking forward to starting my second year on-campus in September!

My university delivers content through a series of short pre-recorded videos that I am required to watch each week, along with weekly live tutorials where I can interact with my TAs and my peers. I haven’t made any sort of detailed study schedule to follow, however every week I find it helpful to write down everything I have to do for each subject. Studying has also been somewhat of a challenge, since I’m at home all day and usually alone there is no pressure to stay on task, so it’s easy for me to get sidetracked by my phone (Among Us tasks > school tasks). I find that turning on “do not disturb” and putting physical distance between myself and my phone (so I can’t easily reach for it) usually helps. When it comes to teamwork, I have found that it works best when everyone has their cameras and microphones on and is clearly communicating with each other. Team work on its own can be a struggle, so remote team work requires even better communication than usual!

(PA) Currently, I’m attending classes in person full-time. We follow health guidelines given by VCH, but even with COVID, this experience feels the closest to pre-covid life. I have the privilege to go to school everyday and spend time with my friends and teachers, which really has helped me maintain my social health and I am beyond grateful for these last memories in high school. As a high school senior, it sometimes feels unfair that our most memorable year has been struck with an evolving global pandemic, yet at the same time, I am appreciative for my health and still having the opportunity to see my friends and experience high school to the best ability. My teachers have started assigning more independent work rather than team-based assignments, and although group projects are fun (especially when you’re with your friends), I feel more productive and a sense of independence working on them alone and just reviewing with my friends.

REAL TALK: What has been the biggest struggles for you during this time?

(JP) The biggest struggle for me has been not being able to see and talk to my peers the way I normally would. Talking online with people has its positives, but it doesn’t compare to meeting in-person and being able to talk face-to-face. I miss seeing people my age on a daily basis and it sucks that I won’t be able to meet most of my new university friends until next year. 

(PA) I think many seniors can agree with me that our two last years of high school have been nothing like what we saw in High School Musical. My personal biggest struggle has been maintaining my health- both physical and mental, while balancing senior year and my social life. Before the pandemic, it was already hard enough to balance everything, but even more now, we have to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. I miss being able to play sports and go to competitions, and also attend large gatherings with my friends and family. When quarantine first started, I dedicated most of my time to working out and trying new leisures, such as painting and cooking. Now, with school in session, I have less time to focus on leisure activities, but I still integrate them into my daily routine. Balancing school and life is my most important priority at the moment, to stay on top of my work, while keeping my health at the best of my abilities.

Any advice for students who are navigating this new normal? 

(JP) For those struggling with academics, I would recommend finding a study space other than your bedroom! By doing this, your brain associates your study space to being productive, so when you are in that space you are more likely to be productive. Your bedroom is the place where you sleep or perhaps go on your phone or computer for entertainment, so if you study in your bedroom you might be more inclined to get distracted by your phone or take a nap. Make sure the study space is somewhere quiet, and be sure that the only thing you do in that space is study. If you need to take a break or have a snack, leave the space and then come back to it once you have recharged. If you are struggling with making new friends, just remember that everyone is in the same boat, so don’t be afraid to reach out to new people – even if you have never talked before! Just think about how happy you would be if someone new reached out to you.

(PA) It’s hard, this year has been anything but smooth and easy. It is completely fine if you don’t feel OK, but be kind to yourself. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and look after yourself. Nothing is more important than your health right now, both physical and mental. Do things that make you happy (make sure it’s safe), learn a new skill and try to keep a positive and healthy mindset and environment. Also, check in with your loved ones, we’re all in this together and having each other’s support goes a long way during this tough time.Go easy on yourself, it’s not an easy task to handle hours of school and homework, let alone a global pandemic! Try your best, explore new interests, adapt your life into our new reality and of course, stay safe!

We’re so proud of all our YELL students (both alumni and current) who continued working hard throughout the pandemic and not only continued their studies, but worked on their side hustles, invested in their passions and found time to give back to others in their community! Thanks Jesse and Parnian for sharing your thoughts and to all the students out there, you’re not alone. We’re all going through this together and we’ll get through it together!