What online learning taught me

EDITOR’S NOTE:This article was originally published by Youth communication and is republished here with permission and revisions. YC is a nonprofit publisher of stories and programs written by teens to help educators build the social and emotional skills of young people.

I was having a wonderful week until I heard these words from my eighth grade science teacher: “If you haven’t heard of Covid-19, cases are increasing, so we may not be out of school, and if it gets worse, we may not be back. My friends and I didn’t seem to mind until she gave us all a packet of homework.

It was mid-March 2020. I was worried, but some of my classmates were actually hoping school would be online. I knew my classmates well; in two seconds they would be crying, wanting to see each other again. They didn’t know what they wanted, but I tried to stay optimistic. Maybe I won’t be at school for a week?

Later that day, my art teacher called me at home. She told me we wouldn’t be going back to school for a while and gave me my Google Classroom info – something I didn’t know yet. She told me that my other teachers would also call me to prepare for the changes in their classes. In math, we had to learn to type all the symbols for our algebra homework, and lining up the problems perfectly on the screen was harder than just writing on paper.

My four siblings have also started homeschooling. It was like a zoo. When my teachers asked me to speak, I had to signal my siblings to be quiet. In some classes, online learning was just plain boring. I was too comfortable and started sleeping, even taking naps during class with my camera off. Once I woke up to a teacher shouting my name. “Marylene! Marylene! Hello?!”

But my sisters and I also grew closer during this time. I had to start helping one with her pre-kindergarten classes every day, which helped me balance my schedule and use my time more efficiently.

As the first semester of online learning drew to a close, students began receiving our high school acceptance letters online. I had persevered and put all my efforts into my candidacy. I logged in and saw that I had entered Beacon – my first choice! It felt like the only good thing that happened during the crazy times we were living in. When I broke the news to my family, we jumped up and celebrated, shaking the whole house. The next day in class, we all shared our news, good or bad. In our virtual chats, my friends and I congratulated and comforted each other. In a way, it was almost like normal school again.

At the end of the year, my teachers talked about the potential for schools to reopen. I harbored hopes of a graduation and an in-person prom. Over the summer we could have picked up our things from our lockers, but we didn’t get a chance to fully return and graduation would be done online. The school has set up a time for us to collect our yearbooks, caps, dresses and refund checks for other canceled activities. I came home with my sister heartbroken. I felt like throwing away the whole bag of graduation papers. What was the purpose?! When I got home, I flipped through the yearbook and a rush of nostalgia hit me as I flipped through the pages.

On my virtual graduation day, I wanted to take pictures with my friends in person, but I got my hair down and my friends couldn’t wait for me because our online ceremony was starting. I started crying, feeling like my whole day was ruined. I wanted to lock myself in the bathroom and smash my phone and everything around me. But with our relationship stronger than ever, my sisters ended up doing my hair and taking pictures with me instead. After resolving some technical difficulties, I was finally able to join the ceremony only a few minutes late. I heard my name called with all my classmates.

Summer finally arrived and the pandemic seemed to loosen its grip on New York, with restaurants and other businesses starting to open, but I was still cautious and wore my mask. I started getting emails from my high school to help me prepare for my freshman year, but in the fall, my hopes were dampened again when we started online school. We ended up doing my entire freshman year remotely. But at least this time I had a whole year of experience of how to adapt, of learning how to find comfort at home.