Students tackle virtual learning and loneliness during the pandemic

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As coronavirus continues to ravage the country, students nationwide have taken on the challenges of learning and living during a pandemic.

By Alexis Taylor
Special to the AFRO

The school closures were only supposed to have lasted two weeks. 

In Maryland, Spring break was already on the horizon. A 10-day recess seemed right on time mid-March, even if it was due to the coronavirus. But the 10-day hiatus turned into a 30-day intermission.

In March, students were told they could come back until April. 

In April, they were told classes would resume in May. 

In May, reality set in.

One school year derailed by the threat of COVID-19 turned into two. 

Nine months later, students nationwide are still struggling to adjust to the changes, cope with the losses and move forward with the new normal. 

“I was thinking ‘this is just a two week break. We’ll come back. It’s just like the flu,’” said nine-year-old Amir Cartwright, recounting his thoughts from the second week of March 2020. “I didn’t think anything of it. My classmates were singing coronavirus songs and making fun of it.” 

It didn’t take long for the jokes to hit closer to home. 

“I was playing on Google and I saw that the first person had passed away from coronavirus in Baltimore,” Cartwright told the AFRO. “I still thought maybe they were a little old. They were coughing, so I still wasn’t thinking of it. Then it kept spreading. It was more than just three people. It was all through Maryland.” 

“They said ‘we’re not going back to school’ and I knew it was serious.”

In the time since the pandemic began, Cartwright has moved from third to fourth grade in Baltimore City Public Schools. Though virtual learning hasn’t been difficult for him, the young scholar says he prefers having a teacher on hand  and in person to address misconceptions when they occur. 

He also had to find substitutes for the many physical activities that had kept him engaged after school before the pandemic. 

“I have the robotics club,” said Cartwright. “And I’m in the debate club and a Russian club. They aren’t like football, track and wrestling as far as being active, but it makes up for it.” 

When she isn’t logged on for her classes, Cheyenne Bradley, an aspiring actress, keeps herself busy with programming offered by the Drama Learning Center in Columbia, Md.

Bradley said virtual learning through Anne Arundel Public Schools is far from her “favorite thing to do, but it’s a safer way to communicate with teachers.” 

“It’s hard to stay organized when you have a lot of assignments and a lot of teachers assigning things to you,” the 12-year-old said, adding that her hardest subject is her college and career prep class, AVID.

Though Bradley isn’t a fan of distance learning, she did note that learning outside of a classroom full of students has improved the ability to get individualized instruction. 

“We have flex time where you can have one-on-one time with your teacher. We wouldn’t be able to get that in person,” she told the AFRO

Bradley’s mother, Kardesha Bradley, said there was a major change in the structure and effectiveness of distance learning between the 2019-2020 school year and the current 2020-2021 school term.

“In the beginning it was stressful because while you’re working and doing virtual school, you also have the house in general to take care of,” said the elder Bradley. “What are we going to have for breakfast? What’s for lunch? Normally I send her to school with lunch money. Now, I have to make lunch.”

Bradley is a lawyer who has been teleworking from home during the pandemic. She praised Anne Arundel Public Schools for doing what they can to improve the distance learning experience. 

“The end of last year wasn’t really school,” she said. “The teachers would post on Sunday and they had the week to get it done. There was no actual class. It was just teachers posting assignments and checking in. None of it was graded so there wasn’t much of an incentive to do it.”

Bradley said “It wasn’t until the school year started again in the Fall that they made it more like real school.” 

“Now they actually go to a first period and a second period with a live teacher instructing the classes. It helps us both because I can structure my work day around it.” 

Similar to Bradley, Aaliyah Ramsey, a 7th grader of Baltimore County Public Schools, said she prefers learning in a brick-and-mortar building over the distance learning she has now endured for part of a second school year.

“Going from regular school to online learning was a big change,” said Ramsey. “Learning in person was easier for me. When I was at school with a teacher who was always there, I could raise my hand and say ‘I have a problem.’” 

“It’s harder to do that when you don’t see your teacher all of the time.”

Ramsey, an only child, said the loss of in-person learning during the pandemic has been tough because it also took away many of the opportunities to socialize that are naturally built into a school day. She has also struggled with the closure of movies, restaurants and other popular hangouts this year.

“I’ve been lonely because I’m an only child and I’m home all the time,” she said. “I have my friends’ numbers so we just call and FaceTime each other. We don’t see each other in person much because I have a higher risk for coronavirus.” 

Though the 13-year-old says distance learning has been difficult, the break from the daily pressure of school has improved her mood.

“I’ve been happier since school has been out because I’ve had time to connect with myself. School was stressful. In my free time I work on my art and my poetry.” 

She said, “It’s kind of hard to think about coronavirus on top of all the things that African Americans are going through. It piles up and it’s overwhelming sometimes.”

The aspiring historian told the AFRO her journals from 2020 will be artifacts to look back on in the future.

“I decided maybe I should keep a record of it.”

“When the new generations ask me what 2020 was really about, I can tell them my actual thoughts and feelings. Not just about coronavirus but also about the racial injustices that have been happening all year.”