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Boredom, Anxiety and Hope: Bay Area High School Students on Their Year of COVID

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As their younger peers have returned to physical classrooms, high school students in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco have mostly remained in distance learning, though some are due to come back next week.

KQED spoke with three students at Berkeley High School and one at Oakland's Fremont High School to hear how they have coped with this year of COVID, and what they are looking forward to when they finally make it back inside their schools.

Edited for length and clarity.

Sascha Amendola, 15, Berkeley High School

"I woke up one day and was like, 'Wow, I used to be so much closer to this one person.' "

Photo by Beth LaBerge/KQED

I do really want to go back to school, and I feel like I would just learn better, and my grades would probably stay up instead of maybe slowly deteriorating.

There are friends like my girlfriend who are like, "Oh, it's too dangerous." She's high risk.

I'm not mad about it. I just hate the coronavirus. I want to play basketball and stuff with my friends. A lot of them are going back to in-person school. It's going to be really hard not to give them a high five or something. But I'm definitely keeping myself safe.

I feel like quarantine has made everybody a little less social. I woke up one day and was like, "Wow, I used to be so much closer to this one person."

When you're with a friend, you can do stuff without Wi-Fi cutting out. Or you walk around, get food and go places. It's just a lot easier to bond with them. You know, FaceTime, all you do is just talk, you don't really do anything else.

I don't know anyone that's purposely skipped class, but I know people that didn't turn on their alarms and slept in through the whole school day. And then sometimes people have joined them on video when they're in their beds, and then they're like, "Turn the camera off." One time in the team sports class, someone forgot to turn the camera off and you could see them holding a video game controller, playing a game.

Some people, they're so upset and in pain that they don't want to do anything. Someone will be like, "I should just kill myself," in a joking way. Which means they're not OK and they need someone to talk to and comfort them and nurture them.

One time I was on FaceTime with someone and they were doing schoolwork, and there was silence for a little while, and then I was like, "How are you?" And they're like, "Not good." And then they really got into it and started crying and broke down in front of me. And I thought, "Damn, I should have seen this; there are always little hints telling you that this person is not well, and you should always pay attention."

Karina Dealba Perez, 17, Fremont High School

"Some days I wake up, I have to go to work at nine in the morning, and I have to miss class."

Photo by Julia McEvoy/KQED

Junior year was my first time on honor roll, with my grades getting much better. Then we got into distance learning and it just went really downhill. I'm a senior, and since the start of online learning, I've been failing.

I had been working before, but I only worked weekends. But then since my parents weren't working, I had to put in a lot of hours, usually more than 40. And that's what really didn't allow me to focus on school as well. But I really had no choice. So I was like, you know what? I'm not even going to focus on school right now. And now that the school year is over, it's hitting me that I have to graduate. I don't want to be a dropout.

My mom's really worried. She's like, "I want you [in school]," but she also understands that we need money coming in, we're not stable. She hadn't been working because my brother had kids, so she has to take care of them while he goes to work.

Other students, I understand, don't go through the same thing. They're OK. They're stable. They can get on the computer in the morning and continue on with their days. Some days I wake up, I have to go to work at nine in the morning, and I have to miss class.

Before COVID, I was honestly thinking of college. I want to attend because I would be the first of my siblings to go. My parents, they didn't even graduate high school. So, I wanted to show them that I can do more with myself. I definitely still want to focus on school.

Simone Schubert, 14, Berkeley High School

"I've learned not to really get excited about anything because generally something happens with COVID and it doesn't happen."

Photo by Beth LaBerge/KQED

I'm kind of excited to be actually meeting the people I've been in some classes with for the past few months — my teachers and my classmates. But throughout the past year, I've learned not to really get excited about anything because generally something happens with COVID and it doesn't happen.

For me, I'm actually quite fine with doing distance learning, and I've got pretty good grades. I don't really know how I'd be doing at Berkeley High — it would be my first year there.

There are a lot of different problems with going back to school. One of the things I was thinking about was going to the bathroom, because during COVID you just don't want to touch anything. You just kind of feel weird if you bump into a bookshelf or a railing or something.

There are a lot of different things the adults in charge of the school system have to think about, a lot of moving parts. For students it's kind of simple: We just think about how it would affect our lives. But this would also affect all of our teachers as well. There will always be people who are upset about the way things are, whether or not the way things are is very good or very bad. There always will be hate. What we do about it is what really matters.

Kai Lim-Moreno, 14, Berkeley High School

"I just have to look on the bright side and think ... I haven't lost any family and that I'm still alive."

Photo by Beth LaBerge/KQED

I'm really excited to get to actually walk around the Berkeley campus and see what it's like, and get to meet people face to face that are in my classes. It has taken a long time, but I feel like we've taken longer because we're looking at different ideas and planning it out so that we don't have to worry about having to shut down again. I know they're not taking this long because they just want to make kids wait longer. They're doing it because they're trying to make it as safe as possible.

I feel like it's nobody's fault that teachers don't want to go back. Teachers are trying to protect themselves and their students. At the end of the day, it just comes down to somebody is always going to not be happy.

At the beginning of the school year, I was so bored I couldn't think of anything to do anymore. I just kept doing the same things over and over and nothing felt new or interesting. There was no mystery about what's going to happen anymore. That started to really affect me. There's nothing for me to look forward to — I know everything that's going to happen.

But I joined the crew team, which really helps because it's in person, four days a week. I get to see my friends and I'm getting exercise. I didn't exercise before, but I started getting out in the fresh air and just enjoying things and talking to friends more. Sometimes I'll have a really great day, and the next day I'll have a hard day when I'll just be thinking about all the things I could be doing. But then I just remind myself that I will get to do it again, that I have to live in the moment, and the more I think about all I could be doing the sadder I'm going to get. I just have to look on the bright side and think of all the positive things I'm getting to do and that I haven't lost any family and that I'm still alive.

Surprisingly, I have been able to keep up academically. I'm getting challenged enough that I feel like I'm learning things. I feel like they've found a way to make it work online, and my teachers will have something they add in to make it fun and make sense.

I feel that everyone's doing the best we can, and sometimes teachers don't realize that some kids aren't in a position where they can turn their camera on or they're having a harder time turning in homework on time because it's loud at their house and they're sharing a room or they have to go to work with their parents.

We are technically obligated to keep our cameras on, and if you can't, you have to email the teacher and tell them. But a lot of kids don't turn their camera on. I think probably kids turn their camera off and walk away from their computer or go back to bed or go on their phone, because I'll be in breakout rooms and there are people in my classes who I've never seen or heard speak. I just will never hear from those people. And so I don't know who they are or if they're actually ever in class. I know people who don't like school will just turn their camera off, and I'll go on Instagram later and they'll have been posting all through class. I don't leave my phone in the living room during school. I don't touch it because it's just another distraction.



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