Editor’s Note: Freshman Year of COVID by Kiera Kaiser was first published by the Fresno County Youth Advocacy Leadership League (YALL) in their countywide Zine. See this piece and other articles, illustrations, and poetry by Fresno County youth in ¡oye! ntsia nov! Our Youth Experience Volume 1.

Illustration by Ashens Limon

Online learning has been a challenge for everyone involved, but I doubt many people have thought about what it’s like entering high school completely online. Freshmen were in the last quarter of 8th grade when everything shut down, and are now about to enter sophomore year. I’ve come to think of my classmates as “COVID freshmen.” 

I know my own experiences – the boredom, the struggles with school, new hobbies, and a terrible sleep schedule. It’s been a struggle to collect and write my own thoughts, so I decided to ask some of my peers about attending their first year of high school online. 

I asked Valeria Suarez, a freshman from Clovis North High School, about her favorite part of online learning and she said it was getting to spend time with her family. “I feel like since we weren’t all busy with everything and we were working from home, that we had more time to be together.” But, while her connections with family strengthened, “[she] really missed being with my friends and the social connections I would’ve gotten at school.” 

I’ve also felt like I have missed social connections. We don’t get to chat on the way to class, or before the lesson starts. With online school, all of those social aspects are gone and instead school becomes solely about learning the material, which not many students are all that interested in, myself included. 

Avery Langley, a freshman at Edison High School, brought up that while in online school, students don’t have to worry about expectations among peers. He said, “the best part of quarantine was being able to stay home and not have to worry about how you look.” 

This is a very pertinent issue for students, and I would say freshmen, especially. Entering high school is exciting, and students are asking ourselves how we are going to make the change from kid to adult. 

Alys Garcia Cruz, a freshman from Edison High School, said “I can’t say I feel prepared or unprepared [for in-person high school] … everything kind of jammed into my brain for the first few days and then I forgot it by the end of the week.” But, thankfully, Garcia Cruz has notes that they plan on using to get through tenth grade, which makes them feel better about next year. 

We had significantly less class time in Fresno Unified, and at Edison High School, there were only three classes per day.

Suarez said that she felt prepared to move on in some classes, and in others, not so much. She said that the difference was in the teachers and how they taught during online school. The circumstances are obviously less than optimal for teaching, but some teachers really made the best of the situation. Unfortunately, Suarez did struggle with some of her classes, and “[her] teacher had no motivation to help [the students] learn.”

As our cities and schools open, there is a collective excitement among students in getting to see and spend time with friends again. 

“I’m excited to be back with my friends and my classmates. I think everyone is going to have a new appreciation for going to school after such a hard year,” said Suarez.

“I am most excited about things feeling normal again and having something to do during the day,” said Langley. And while that excitement is a big part of thinking about the near future, there is also worry. “The first few weeks [of in-person school next year] will probably be hard to readjust to.”

This feeling is shared by Garcia Cruz, who says that while they are really excited to hang out with friends again, “it’s nerve-wracking to introduce myself to a lot of new people and be surrounded in a group.” 

Students have become used to staying home with minimal interaction with their peers, and soon we are all going to be reintroduced to the hectic environment that school used to be. Personally, I share the nervous-excitement many of my peers are feeling, and I hope that this summer can be a time for me to ease into social interaction again. 

Kiera Kaiser (any pronouns)

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