By Sydney King
You wake up and it’s a weekday. The first thing you do is grab your computer, turn it on, and log onto your student account. Soon, school will start, where you will sit in front of your computer screen for six hours, with the exception of the minutes spared for lunch and class transitions. When the school day ends, you will be freed from the grip of your assignments only for a moment, before returning to your computer and student account for homework, only to shut it off and repeat this pattern for the next day, for an entire year.
That was the reality for the 2020-21 school year. Now, with the new school year about to start, I talked with 17-year-old Esme Ginsburg, an incoming EGHS senior who experienced all three types of school last year – hybrid, full distance, and full in-person learning – to hear her reflections on pandemic schooling.
“Since I did hybrid learning the majority of the year, it gave me a lot of time to figure things out about myself,” said Ginsburg. “Also, it gave me time to figure out a social life, which is really important to me, because I value being around people who make me feel good. During the pandemic, you know, and not being around people, made me realize that I need to be around people who make me comfortable and inspire me.”
Ginsburg said the unconventional structure of the school year allowed her to create her own boundaries, helping her establish a sense of self. By having days with significantly less social interaction, Ginsburg spent more time figuring out her identity.
“It’s quality over quantity for sure,” Ginsburg said, noting how her friend group got smaller as a consequence of the pandemic. “It’s not really something I think about anymore, now I feel that I can just be free” to hang out with those friends with whom she can be comfortable and truly herself. For her, this means reserving precious energy for the people who deserve it.
“Self discovery is definitely something positive,” Ginsburg said. “Drifting away from people isn’t really something negative for me. Instead of stepping away from people, I really just redistributed myself into things that I was drawn to.” This wasn’t an overnight thing, she said. “It’s definitely a process, and it’s not something that’s linear.”
Thinking back over lessons learned last year, Ginsburg said, “Boundaries with others were probably the hardest thing for me to learn. Learning about yourself is one thing, but communicating that to other people is another…. Again, it’s a process.”
She’s also learned that kindness can sometimes be really hard to come by, because it is so much easier to be rude than to be nice. But it turns out being kind can be good for you, she said, as well as good for the people you’re dealing with. “Learning to be kind to everyone, or even genuine, should be something that you do for yourself,” Ginsburg said.
Ginsburg said she was surprised how easily she adapted to the different learning style. “I had so much time to do my own thing. I was able to learn about my own habits by studying by myself.” A number of students have expressed similar thoughts, which might come as a surprise to teachers and school staff, but it turns out while most students consider a social life is crucial to school, it can often be a distraction to learning.
When asked if there was something she wished she’d done differently, Ginsburg said she’d try harder to appreciate things in the moment. “Your mindset changes everything, by anticipating the worse you only make things so much harder,” she said.
In terms of the past three months, Ginsburg said, “summer is definitely not what I expected it to be. I thought I’d have more down time, but I’m realizing that I have to balance a social life with my summer work, as well as preparing for college.”
Remarkably, the last normal year of school for incoming seniors was freshman year. When looking at it from that perspective, it seems like the high school experience has been condensed. “Life goes by really fast, another thing I’ve learned this year is that you can’t keep putting things off for the future,” said Ginsberg. “If there’s something that you want to do, take steps towards it now.”
In a way, she said, it feels harder to differentiate between the summer and the school year, but more like her priorities switched from homework to other responsibilities. “I definitely appreciate being able to think more freely though, because school does take up a lot of your mental energy. I used to not want a lot of free time to think, but after [last] year, I love it.”
When asked what she was going to carry with her into the new school year, Ginsburg said, “Making life a positive thing. Make the most out of any situation given, allow yourself to process things, but don’t get too caught up.”
Sydney King is a member of the EGHS Class of 2022.