What was it like back in school during COVID? Bay Area students tell their stories | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools


isn’t what it used to be

It is 6:48 a.m., and I am wide awake with the distinct pleasure of having a cotton swab stuck up my nose for the third time this week. Per NCAA protocols, student-athletes like myself must be coronavirus tested regularly until they are fully vaccinated. And this testing is not something you get used to, especially after a two-hour track practice.

But this is what school has become in a post-COVID world.

I’m old enough to have experienced college life differently; I started my freshman year in 2019 at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. I was raised in the Bay Area but have strong roots in the South, so I was eager to attend college in Louisiana, a.k.a. “The Boot.” From the moment I stepped onto campus, I was googly-eyed like a kid in the candy store. I still remember the taste of my first Louisiana crawfish boil. Food is religion in the South, and they do not play about their seafood. I spent a warm Saturday stuffing endless pounds of shrimp, crawfish and sausage in my face and surrounded by the laughs of new friends and teammates.

Then came March 12, 2020.

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic, the United States implemented its first travel ban, and the NBA and NCAA announced the cancellation of their seasons. On that same day, I was forced to pack up my belongings, coordinate transportation and leave campus. Frantic, I called almost everyone I knew to figure out a plan. I eventually found a way to get to Huntsville, Ala., to stay with a teammate. From there, I headed to my mother’s hometown of Albany, Ga., before flying back to California.

As the world was put on lockdown, so was my college career. I tried to live my college dreams from behind a screen, but that was not going to happen. I pushed through, but not everyone was so fortunate. A friend went through serious mental health issues after their grades sank due to the online learning environment. Another friend dropped out entirely.

With time to reflect, I decided I needed to make some changes, transferring schools to enroll at Alabama State University, a historically Black college. I also changed my major from biology to journalism — to follow my dream of working in the sports world.

I finally set foot onto my new campus for the first time in August. Thankfully, in terms of COVID safety, I felt totally safe in my space. I did not have to share a bedroom — only a bathroom and sink with two other teammates. But campus social interaction was not the same; masks and social distancing were the new requirements, which meant no more large gatherings, no more passing small talk and no more face-to-face conversations.

As the semester went on, and the wave of vaccinations began to rise, shoulders began to relax around campus and life started to sprinkle back. And yet meeting new people and making easy friendships remained complicated. College life wasn’t a total wasteland, but the usual vibe and lively community of a historically Black college was a shadow of itself. Spontaneous events were still nonexistent. Study group sessions, finding chill time with friends or visiting other dormitories remained difficult. Dorms were even restricted to certain hours for visitation — and people of certain genders were prohibited from entering certain dorms entirely, regardless of the hours.

Just like in the outside world, it will take a minute before campus life returns as we once knew it. Time, however, waits for no one. College life may not be how I remember it, but it’s the only one I may know from here on out. I intend to make the best of it.


Cullen Davis is 21-year-old junior majoring in journalism at Alabama State University.

After a lost school year,

many kids are acting out

Our first semester back didn’t exactly go smoothly.

The abrupt transition from online to in-person learning left administrators grappling with an uptick in unsavory behavior. Frankly, it often felt like kids don’t know how to function in social or public settings anymore.

At my school, Miramonte High School in Orinda, it was hard not to notice an overall air of immaturity pervading the school.

The “devious licks” trend, which originated on TikTok and entailed people stealing and destroying random property, including but not limited to soap dispensers, water fountains, sinks and other appliances, was wildly popular here at the beginning of the school year. Though the craze mostly died down, I still sometimes found myself in school bathrooms without a single soap dispenser in sight. It’s obviously tough to adhere to COVID-19 hand washing guidelines when there’s no soap.

While some found the “devious licks” trend entertaining, I and many others felt it spoke to a broader disregard for the school staff. In my capacity as a student journalist, I interviewed people who told me about staff — even experienced teachers — who had gone home crying because students weren’t listening to them or sometimes even cussing them out.

Miramonte wasn’t alone, according to students and teachers I spoke with from around the region. Alhambra High School in Martinez saw multiple vandalism incidents. In September, a group of students removed the flagpole from the ground and paraded it around the school, ultimately leaving it in front of the office.

“I am not sure how it even happened, because the concrete was still on it,” an Alhambra student told me.

I heard similar stories of garbage strewn across table tops and even someone defecating under a stairwell.

Online school may have acted as the substitute for academics, but there were no similar solutions to mitigate social isolation.

While there is not a definitive answer as to why students are misbehaving, it’s hard not to interpret some of these incidents as cries for attention. During distance learning, it was harder for teachers to give the one-on-one support that some students needed. Even if they did, it was exclusively through the cold medium of Zoom. It’s entirely possible that students may be acting out now in a bid to feel noticed.

Ultimately, this increased tendency for bad behavior will likely be shown to have been caused by many different factors working in conjunction with each other. But it’s clear now that a primary focus for schools should be on filling in the socialization gaps left by the extended period of isolation. Each student has different needs that must be addressed. In 2022, it will be up to school administrators to support them the best they can as students continue to acclimate to in-person learning.


Jonathan Pham is a senior at Miramonte High School and the online editor in chief of its newspaper, the Mirador.

We have a hunger for life like never before

Early alarms. The return of backpacks. Running footsteps echoing through the hallways. Laughter. Familiar faces and voices. We were back in school and life was “back to normal.”

But things weren’t the same.

My fellow seniors and I spent our first semester back in constant fear. Of COVID, sure. But more so the fear of missing out on more of our lives.

Nearly half of our high school experience was taken from us — moments we will never get back. The junior prom. Gone. That’s not a story we’ll ever be able to share. Taking the SAT at school with our friends at 5 a.m.? Nope. The junior “cocoa and cram,” where we study at school until 10 p.m. and drink hot cocoa? Not an option. Seasonal sports? Nonexistent.

And so we did everything in our power this semester to participate in as many events as we could — trying to create as many new traditions as possible. We went to music festivals such as Bottlerock and Outside Lands, and went clubbing in San Francisco when the age limit allowed. We threw ourselves into the world like never before, all because we are too scared to miss out on anything else.

Still, coming back to school was a shock to the system. The pandemic lifestyle allowed students to do their classwork and homework together over their phones, figure out ways to cheat on tests and attain extended deadlines.

Back in the classroom, teachers assigned more work than ever, were harsh on deadlines and checked plagiarism as if it were the plague.

Life in school evolved immensely over the semester as well.

During the first few weeks back, each student had to complete a daily health screener before coming to their first class. That rule lasted less than a month.

By the end of the semester, students came to class, masks under their noses, without teachers saying a word. Mask mandates no longer carried much weight outside of the classrooms. You could find people mask-free in the hallways and by their cars.

We were not, however, allowed to drive off campus and get food. That was considered to be a “COVID safety issue.”

Despite a thirst to live our lives again, many students struggled back at school.

With SAT and ACT scores now optional for college admissions, and extracurricular activities limited due to the pandemic, students had much less to rely on to get into their dream school. We had to sustain even higher grade-point averages and scrape up whatever activities we could to add to our resumes. On top of the immense competition of our fellow peers, this year’s seniors also competed with last year’s graduates, who either deferred or took a gap year.

Everyone’s worst nightmare was getting sick. Missing one day might be a crime against your GPA. But a mandatory two-week COVID absence could be suicide.

One teacher told us that this was the worst mental health he has seen in his students in his 23 years of teaching. The American Psychological Association agrees with that statement, reporting that 81% of Generation Z teenagers (ages 13-17) have experienced more intense stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once college applications are done, I can only hope relief will set in and senioritis will be in full-blast.


Angelica Gauptman is a writer, activist and high school student graduating in 2022. She is a creative director and writer for her school’s television program.



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