I vividly remember sitting with my three best friends in the back of Shakespeare & Co, a cafe in Center City Philadelphia on March 13. We had taken advantage of our day off, while our teachers spent the day planning for an extended school closure due to COVID-19.
I was flipping through a book when the calming buzz of the cafe was interrupted by the incessant pinging of cell phones. We had all gotten the news: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf had mandated the closure of all schools in the state for two weeks.
I wondered out loud: “Was the universe finally handing us high school juniors the break that we had all desperately been asking for?
Two weeks without having to wake up at 6 a.m. felt like a dream. Every day, over those 14 days, I was able to do the things that I used to love but no longer had time for, such as bike riding, gardening, hiking and painting. I even attempted to learn cosmetology: I gave my mom and sister haircuts on the porch.
I was particularly appreciative of the beautiful weather. Spending hours outside, I noticed that my backyard was now filled with vibrant spring colors, as flowers started to bloom. My friends and I were grateful for the time to decompress, even if it didn’t last long.
As days passed, it became clear to everyone, myself included, that the situation was dire. It’s also a good indicator that something has gone terribly wrong in the world when my usual Instagram feed of fashion and baking videos turns into messages of thoughts and prayers. A two-week closure soon became an indefinite suspension of traditional schooling.
Soon thereafter, other states issued shelter-in-place orders and President Donald Trump issued a national emergency. Fear turned to panic, and everybody’s worst nightmare soon became a reality.
The grocery stores I was used to seeing fully stocked were cleared of essential supplies, like milk and hand sanitizer. Many of my favorite local restaurants transitioned to delivery-only, while others closed. The implications of this coronavirus pandemic became evident. Talk of layoffs and businesses struggling to make payroll became the norm.
I had used the time off from school to relax, but I could no longer overlook the crisis my country was facing.
The news media was repeatedly reporting how the changes in our lives are becoming “the new normal.” One of these changes is a transition away from traditional schooling. On March 30, Strath Haven High School in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, initiated online instruction for the rest of the year. Each Monday, our teachers post the week’s assignments and make themselves available through Zoom, a web-based video conferencing platform, to answer questions.
Each passing day, as the world at large remains in crisis, it becomes more and more difficult to find the motivation to complete the mundane tasks assigned to 11th graders. A message I saw on social media about working from home applies to school as well: “We aren’t doing school from home; we are at home during a crisis trying to do school.” I’ve taken that to heart.
Google Classroom and Zoom have made online learning easier and I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to stay connected with my friends. But seeing my teachers through a screen makes me realize how much I appreciated the classroom.
Before the pandemic, I had often heard adults say that young people would lose the ability to connect in-person with others due to our growing dependence on technology and social media. However, this stay-at-home experience has proven to me that our elders’ worry is unnecessary. Because isolation isn’t in human nature, and no advancement in technology could replace our need to meet in person, especially when it comes to learning.
As the weather gets warmer and we approach summertime, it’s going to be more and more tempting for us teenagers to go out and do what we have always done: hang out and have fun. Even though the decision-makers are adults, everyone has a role to play and we teens can help the world move forward by continuing to self-isolate. It’s incredibly important that in the coming weeks, we respect the government’s effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
In the meantime, we can find creative ways to stay connected and continue to do what we love. Personally, I see many 6-feet-apart bike rides and Zoom calls in my future.
If there is anything that this pandemic has made me realize, it’s how connected we all are. At first, the infamous coronavirus seemed to be a problem in China, which is worlds away. But slowly, it steadily made its way through various countries in Europe, and inevitably reached us in America. What was once framed as a foreign virus has now hit home.
Watching the global community come together, gives me hope, as a teenager, that in the future we can use this cooperation to combat climate change and other catastrophes.
As COVID-19 continues to creep its way into each of our communities and impact the way we live and communicate, I find solace in the fact that we face what comes next together, as humanity.
When the day comes that my generation is responsible for dealing with another crisis, I hope we can use this experience to remind us that moving forward requires a joint effort.
Mira Patel is a junior at Strath Haven High School and is an education intern at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. Follow her on Instagram here.
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