ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The middle school students at St. Mary’s Catholic School began keeping journals in late February – a way, their teacher hoped, for them to reflect on Lent as more than just giving up meat or gum or movies.
But as the days passed into weeks and then into months, as COVID-19 shut down their school and shut off life as they knew it, those journals went from notebook to Chromebook and became a lifeline, a way for teacher Carol Johansen to check in with students suddenly forced to give up far more than they could have imagined.
“So many times we recognize how COVID-19 is affecting doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, restaurant workers, people who lost their jobs, adults, but we don’t hear about the kids,” said Johansen, who teaches religion and science to sixth, seventh and eighth graders at the Downtown Albuquerque school. “They’re such social animals and all that has changed. They’re under stress. It’s confusing. It’s not easy.”
On April 28 – nearly three weeks after Lent ended, nearly eight weeks since the students walked the hallways of their school – Johansen asked her students to use their journals to reflect on this question: How is COVID-19 affecting your life?
Their answers offered glimpses of young lives unexpectedly put on hold.
They miss their friends. They are bored. They are afraid sometimes. Having what seems an endless weekend isn’t as easy as they might have guessed.
“The hardest part about the COVID-19 for me would probably be that I am stuck at home, unable to see my friends, and many people are dying from it,” Alyssa L. wrote. “Even though I can still call and keep in touch with my friends it is not the same.”
From Marcos C.: “Social distancing is truly a new way of life. It’s forced us to see how fast paced life was for most of us.”
From Sierra S.: “When I first heard of coronavirus, I didn’t think it was a big deal. It was very far away and I didn’t really worry about it. Then it came closer to us. I was pretty scared. But I had my family.”
Some students have found bright spots where they can.
“Quarantine started getting better after the release of the ‘Last Dance’ doc, NFL draft and sports analysts talking about new topics and new and old debates,” Isaiah L. wrote.
From Danira A.: “Quarantine, in my opinion, is a very good opportunity for everyone to be more active. It is also a good time to be with your family and bond. My family is going on walks together and spending more time together.”
Some have learned to appreciate what they don’t have now, much to their surprise.
“I never thought I would say this, but I miss school,” Carisse P. wrote. “I guess as a teenager we take our school and teachers for granted.”
From Noah T.: “My family and I would normally meet with other family members and hang out or go out for dinner.”
From Layla M.: “But honestly, being home and having all this time to myself has given me the opportunity to work on my self-confidence and improve in the ways I want to. I have had more time to work out and to give myself the attention that I had not been able to do before.”
Some are more concerned about how others are weathering the pandemic.
“I have been paying attention to the news and keep hearing about how kids and families don’t have food on their tables,” Dane P. wrote. “Doctors, nurses and hospital workers are working very long hours and don’t have enough protective gear such as masks to protect themselves from getting sick and this is very scary because the virus is very contagious.”
And yes, some have just had it.
“Lately, it feels like I’ve been going crazy in my house,” wrote Izabella C., echoing most adults I know. “It’s like my life’s on repeat.”
From Diego G.: “My time at home has been fun, but I wish we could find a cure and everything could go back to normal.”
Oh Diego, don’t we all.
Some admonished us to do what we must.
“I hope everyone continues social distancing so that the spreading of the virus stops,” Madison B. wrote. “Please do the right thing and stay home and stop the spread.”
School has continued online through the magic of Zoom and what other methods teachers can come up with. Eight graders graduate next Tuesday, celebrated with a drive-by of the grads and their families past the school and socially distanced faculty. The last day for the rest of the school is May 22.
No one knows what comes next.
“We hold a special place in our hearts for these kids, who are doing an amazing job trying to make adjustments in this strange time,” teacher Johansen said. “They see what’s going on, see that people are dying. They are dealing with the stress of worrying if their parents will get sick, worried for their own safety or whether they will die.”
But through their journals, what comes through is the students’ unsullied sense of hope for better tomorrows. That should be a lesson for us all.
“I feel very lonely right now and I am sure that many people feel the same way,” Marisol M. wrote. “But this is making us closer because we realize how much we love each other. It is making us stronger. After this, there will be parades, parties, sports and other things we miss, but for now, we must stay home.”
And this from Lena H.: “I try to look ahead in the future and see what my eighth grade year would be like and the person I want to try to be when life goes back to normal. But when I open my eyes I think, when will that happen? What will the future even be like? What will life be like in three months? All I know is that I have to listen to God and trust him. … But we all need to know that we will have to go through ups and downs, smiles, laughs, frowns and cries to reach the big things that we all dream of. Right now is just unexplainable.”
Which explains the way things are pretty well.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.