A reflection of the effects of the pandemic as the 2020-2021 school year comes to an end.

With the rising COVID-19 pandemic, the Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) has found new ways of accommodating students so that they can have a safe learning environment from a distance. When the school year started back in August, IUSD chose to implement two academic models in which students had a choice between the Irvine Virtual Academy (IVA) and a hybrid model. The IVA system included all-online classes from the safety of students’ homes. The hybrid model split the student population into two cohorts that would each attend school on different days with some days in-person at school and other days learning online at home.

Stress has been inevitable with students being forced apart from each other and mental health was an especially important lesson that every school emphasized. Reaching out to teachers and staff members was highlighted through events like Mental Health Week, Kindness Week and through the activities done by Hope Squad, a group of students selected by their peers to encourage others in suicide prevention.

Portola High junior Puneet Singh is currently a part of the hybrid model at her school. A major challenge that she has encountered this year is trying to stay connected and engaged with friends, school work and her community. Singh has had an especially hard time with maintaining her relationships that were once so strong because of the lack of face-to-face encounters. She advises others to practice the skill of remaining active and motivated even when there are not too many around you that you talk to on a daily basis.

“Change was very hard for me as I am sure that it was for many of my peers. It was very hard for me to learn online and then go in-person for hybrid only to take tests on concepts that I had never actually had a proper lesson on. There was a disconnect between students and teachers and I had to be more open with teachers when I needed help on assignments which was a problem that I did not have before this year. Nevertheless, I think this only made me stronger in my independence with school work and learning to be proactive in meeting deadlines and studying on my own,” Singh said.

Singh has found that to keep herself motivated and happy, she needed to find the positive and what she loved to do amidst chaos. Like Singh, many other students have picked up new hobbies and interests during the pandemic to cope with the overbearing stress levels.

“As I lost touch with more and more friends, I realized that I was becoming more self reliant for my happiness which is something that I am actually really glad I was able to develop over this time. I have gotten to a stage where I don’t need to hang out with friends to have a good time or do things that may have been risky at the start of the pandemic. Enjoying time alone has been the best way for me to get through this,” Singh said.

Irvine High junior Izzy Feng is also a part of the hybrid program. Feng has struggled this year to remember to take breaks from her online classes as tests were virtual instead of on paper which strained her eyes and cramped her neck. Feng practices taking breaks by going out for a jog or getting up to stretch. Looking back at her junior year, Feng notes that the pandemic both alleviated some of the schoolwork stress students face, but has also added on different problems in that she finds herself self-studying more rather than purely relying on her IVA curriculum modules or the instruction of teachers to better understand information.

“A negative that I found was the lack of fun to balance out the work. Typically, I would use school events or hangout with my friends as a “reward” after a week of hard work. Now, there isn’t that “light at the end of the tunnel” event after each week of work. It kind of just feels like a never-ending cycle of stress,” Feng said.

IUSD has also introduced a video conferencing app called Zoom to students to attend their virtual classes. Zoom has become the new normal in that it is a way for students and friends to stay connected to each other through whether it be for school, movie nights, birthday parties or club meetings.

“I think that although many do get tired of the constant zoom meetings it was nice to still have a way of communication that wasn’t just texting and chatting. Additionally I think that it was important to have a good balance between zoom and the outdoors so I tried my best to stay active because zooming all the time can drain you mentally,” Singh said.

Feng encountered funny moments during her Zoom experience in which she accidentally unmuted herself in the middle of her classes several times. Feng adds that although it was embarrassing, it was also pretty funny.

“I generally feel pretty comfortable using Zoom, but I feel a little disconnected, having never met some of my IVA teachers and classmates before,” Feng said.

As the end of the school year approaches, many students have started to get vaccinated and more school events are slowly becoming available such as prom and graduation. During the last couple of days of school, students will take on finals week and Advanced Placement (AP) testing. IUSD has offered students two academic selection options for next year: All in-person with a traditional school schedule or the all-online classes through IVA. With how far schools were able to restabilize and mimic a normal school year, students remain hopeful for what awaits them next year.

“A hope that I have for the future is that we will all be able to heal from this pandemic whether it was losing a loved one, going through mental breakdowns and depression, being overcome with stress, losing relationships that were once strong and getting sick from the pandemic itself. We all have strength in making it this far and from what I have seen, those around me have gone through so much in this past year so I can only imagine what the rest of the world feels like. I hope that one day we will no longer see the lasting effects of this time as negative but we will see the strength and resilience we had as a positive and we will remember those we lost but also go on to live in the world that has healed because of us,” Singh said.

Leisa Komyo
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