Stuyvesant’s Sick of Being Sick

Many Stuyvesant students are sick. The coronavirus and other illnesses have struck at a difficult time—so how has it been?

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By Delia Qiu

“Please wait, the meeting host will let you in soon,” you read. The scintillating light of a computer greets your tired eyes. 9:10:22. You’re qualmish, and your body has succumbed to a raging fever. You could just leave the meeting and sleep, but the thought of falling behind in your classes is more damaging to you than any harm a sickness could inflict.

Your teacher’s cheery “Good morning class!” startles you. You’re dizzy. On a regular day, you would have mustered a gawky smile and prepared yourself for the next 50 minutes of lecture, but today is different. Your aching body and snotty nose have made it impossible to move without feeling as if every part of your body is on fire. But you power through.

Unfortunately, this experience is not uncommon. A number of Stuyvesant students have been afflicted by the coronavirus and other illnesses as the pandemic rages on. The already uncomfortable experience of being sick is only exacerbated by the difficulties of remote learning, especially as teachers and students struggle to adapt to an entirely remodeled learning system.

Junior George Lin is one student who contracted the coronavirus. “My whole family had it, and I felt really bad for a week. I had a fever, felt really lightheaded for a while, and I had no appetite,” he said. As for school, Lin found that most of his teachers were quite understanding. “I informed all my teachers, even my guidance counselors. They were all really receptive,” he described. “I went to all my classes while being sick even though I couldn’t really pay attention.”

Though his teachers were compassionate, Lin found that keeping up with school work was still a struggle. He explained, “I didn’t want to fall behind. Being sick in a pandemic is different because school is online; you have to be more diligent. You have more leeway, but you have to focus regardless.”

Lin’s sentiment was echoed by junior Kripamoye Biswas, who believes she contracted the coronavirus last semester. Fighting sickness in the midst of the transition to remote learning was the ultimate uphill battle for Biswas. “I had a lot going on second semester. Many of my family members were sick as well, so it was a bit difficult to manage all my classes,” she said in an e-mail interview. However, Biswas found that the burden of her ailment was lessened by the format of her virtual instruction: “Luckily, most of our live meetings were optional and only for a few classes.”

The coronavirus is not the only sickness Stuyvesant students have contracted—its introduction has not stymied the relentless stream of winter illnesses that plague students every December.

Junior Lina Khamze is one student who contracted the yearly stomach bug. “I could not attend my first-period class because I was throwing up,” Khamze said. Initially worried that the mysterious sickness was the dreaded coronavirus, Khamze was relieved to find that her symptoms disappeared after a day and that she did not have to get tested or worry about infecting others.

Sophomore Lex Lopez had a similar experience. He suffered from a bug with symptoms similar to the coronavirus: headaches, shortness of breath, and constant coughing. “My family thought I possibly had COVID because I had been out seven days ago to go to the grocery store and because my dad is a frontline healthcare worker,” he said. To make matters worse, Lopez’s symptoms began right before a big debate tournament, which he ultimately had to withdraw from due to his sore throat. “It became more of a nuisance as time went on, not necessarily because it was painful […] but more so because it disrupted my ability to do schoolwork and other events such as debate,” he explained.

Lopez’s personal situation has made things difficult as well. “The scary part is that I have some pre-existing conditions that would make me more susceptible to COVID and other similar diseases. Second, my dad is a frontline worker, so it’s really stressful to know that my dad and I can be infected, and it could be really dangerous.” Despite initial challenges, Lopez found that his teachers were accommodating and shared Lin’s positive experience: “My teachers were very understanding. There was really only one class that I missed work in, and I was more or less able to complete work,” he said. “My teachers were […] very understanding, and they were very accommodating with accepting late work if I missed work or anything.”

Khamze had a markedly different experience with teachers than Lin and Lopez because her teachers were not as understanding of her situation. She explained, “My teacher [didn’t] respond to my absence email [and] wouldn’t let me make up the graded work in class.”

From the teachers’ perspectives, they have been doing their best to mitigate the pressures of online learning as much as they can and urge students to consider their teachers. In the words of math teacher Brian Sterr, “On the other end of Zoom, it’s nearly impossible to tell how someone is feeling, unlike in the classroom, so telling the teacher at least lets them know why you may not be participating or why you are handing in work late,” he said.

To try and relieve the miscommunication gap the Internet wedges between teachers and students, Sterr advised transparency. “Communication is important. If you’re sick, let your teachers know […] If you feel you cannot complete your work on time, reach out to your teacher. They will probably be understanding about it,” he said in an e-mail interview. Though it may seem nerve-wracking to reach out to teachers, Sterr reassures students that teachers appreciate such communication: “I do not feel there is a stigma around sickness when it comes to Stuyvesant and teaching. I think most teachers are well aware of the situation,” he said.

English teacher Lauren Stuzin agreed with this sentiment. For them, understanding the varying needs of students and teachers is the key to creating a positive environment—one where everybody can succeed. But this definition of success has changed with the pandemic. “Personally, I am shifting focus from grading and testing to learning, understanding, and growing. If you try and want to grow, and you bring that with you to class every day, I will see that, and that is success in my book,” Stuzin said in an e-mail interview.

Requited empathy is crucial. The trials of a global pandemic have struck everyone in their most vulnerable moments. Stuyvesant students must also consider the situation of teachers: as junior Biswas elaborated, “Most of my teachers were really understanding, but there were a few [who] weren’t as kind. Nevertheless, I understood that they may have been going through a difficult situation, so I didn’t really mind.”

Adapting to online learning is difficult, and Stuzin urges students to consider their peers and know that in the face of such adversity, we can find solace in those around us. “We are in this together academically, and we are in this together personally and emotionally,” they said. “We need to hold each other and ourselves accountable and make sure we have solidarity in the community.”