Our One Year Corona-versary
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Fear replaced the usual liveliness of the building. Teachers taught classes of five or 15 students, if they even bothered to show up. It was supposed to be a joyous time. The SING! season had just concluded, and spring PSAL sports teams were preparing to kick-start their practices. Officially March 13 was a normal Friday, but the students knew otherwise.
Two days later, on the evening of March 15, we received the notification that NYC was officially under a state of emergency, and schools would consequently be closed. We heard that school would resume in late April and thought the situation might just be a blip on the radar.
Our reactions ranged from relief and curiosity to nervousness and dread. We rejoiced at the opportunity for an early spring break. Viral TikToks and Animal Crossing defined the days of our first week of quarantine. But the severity of the pandemic soon began to rear its ugly head with shortages of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and masks. Family members faced unemployment as their workspaces closed. Others were essential workers who continued to venture outside, their makeshift masks covering their faces but not their apprehension.
Outside, the bustle of the city came to a halt. An eerie silence filled the streets, a premonition that death was, literally, right around the corner.
Just a week after our quarantine’s start, the rocky shift to online learning began. The uncertainty surrounding remote learning, grades, and Advanced Placement tests was palpable even in the Zoom universe. Disbelief about the cancelation of sports seasons, dances, and graduation ceremonies became ubiquitous. In a universally confounding move, the Department of Education (DOE) banned Zoom after several security issues and “Zoom bombings.”
Everyone was freaking out.
Any hope of a swift return to normalcy was crushed by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement on April 14 that schools would stay closed for the remainder of the school year. Our hearts felt pained that we would not be seeing our teachers or peers soon. We were also curious about a new grading option, the “CR,” that would allow students to change any numerical grade to “credit received” due to challenging pandemic conditions.
In May, instances of police brutality across the nation, including those of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, took the limelight. Shock and anger rippled throughout the country. Our discussions encompassed more of the complexity of racial issues in our school communities and beyond. Students spearheaded more Talk Circles Around Race, albeit virtually.
We concluded our last day of school feeling deeply unsatisfied. Whether we lost motivation, felt pressured to be productive in light of the free time, missed our friends and families, or coped with the deaths of loved ones, we were all enveloped in the pandemic.
Summertime, and the livin’ was not easy. Much like the weather, in late May and June, people’s anger over racial injustice reached a boiling point. New Yorkers—many Stuyvesant students among them— spilled out onto the streets in protest. Helicopters thundered overhead. Those living near large gathering spaces like Barclays Center or City Hall heard the distant roar of crowds. As the summer went on, though, the roar began to quiet down.
Things were similarly in flux within our school community. Students sat at home and gnawed at their fingernails uneasily. With summer programs, internships, and travel long since obliterated, there was little else to do. We discovered at the end of July that Principal Eric Contreras was leaving (for real this time), and that a new person was preparing to take the throne—a mysterious figure named “Seung Yu.” To top it off, there was the big elephant in the room known as “the precarious upcoming school year.” There was a great furor over the virtues of remote versus those of blended, and more still when we learned at the end of August that our schedules would be divided in half, with five periods one day and the other five periods the next. Some were ruffled by the elimination of certain electives; those who did not want to take them rejoiced. Either way, time went on. Ruffled feathers settled somewhat.
The beginning of the school year echoed the spring term as the first day of school was repeatedly pushed back until September 16. We sighed in relief as our school day started at 9:10 a.m. instead of the usual 8:00, and toted our new schedule of 55-minute-long periods and 10 minutes of passing time. The majority of us chose to stay remote despite being offered the chance to go into blended learning, which was still, at the end of the day, remote instruction. But this opportunity to go into the school building, while infrequently, was particularly valuable to many for whom home was not a suitable learning environment.
We were given a deadline to submit a request to CR grades on November 30. Some of us rushed to Facebook and asked if a specific grade in a class was worthy enough to stay on our transcripts before then. Not long after, the COVID-19 rate surpassed three percent, and the DOE announced that schools would close again.
However, the extensive discussions that took place in our history classes about the presidential election were a new change in scenery. In some, we watched the presidential debate and election coverage with our teachers. We saw an increased engagement with politics among students as they turned their worry into action by continuously phone-banking swing states and posting colorful infographics on Instagram. We ultimately rejoiced with pots and pans down the streets of New York once we heard that Joe Biden was the next President of the United States.
Here we are at winter’s end, and we are unraveling. When the Capitol was stormed on January 6, we sat in online class and remotely witnessed a boiling over of political tensions and the subsequent violence. Are we to never be a whole country, but always plagued by angry extremists?
Mentally, many of us have found ourselves drained. Assignments are never in low supply, but motivation is hard to come by. We united over our common feelings of burnout through Facebook and voiced our concerns, encapsulated in tense conversations. The Student Union met with the administration to discuss a survey which determined that overwhelmingly, we are not doing so well. The guidance counselors now have regular office hours, and tensions seem to have diminished, but the conversation is perhaps not all resolved.
The early spring has brought pleasant weather, and the news of PSAL sports practices roused the spirits of student-athletes. Additionally, amid a flood of test cancelations, Stuyvesant combated uncertainty by offering SAT administration to grateful juniors. The DOE stated intentions to reopen public high schools in some capacity, allowing the return of the blended learning model and its limited successes. Cautiously, we are dipping our toes into the water, hoping to integrate some sense of normalcy back into our lives, even if that “normal” is fragmented. Still, it doesn’t seem as if the ugliness revealed during the pandemic will be gone soon. The resurgence of attacks against Asian-Americans reminds us of a hateful America, lurking below the surface, but seemingly ever-present.
We arrive again to mid-March, as if riding upon some supremely disappointing merry-go-round. Our prospects appear dismal, and we speculate, as we did one year ago, as to when this whole ordeal will end. Indifferentiable days blend together, for our current way of living is one in which there is no punctuation. Commute-less, we trudge through online school. Breaks hardly feel like breaks, and weekends are weekdays as we remain isolated in the same spaces. There is little change. Here is another day like the last. Here is another week like the last. Here is another month, another semester, just like the last. It has been a year. So much has changed. So much has happened. And yet, beyond the unimaginable upheaval, we seem to have fallen into exhaustingly static routines.