Sophomore Shift: A Metro Detroit Teen’s View on COVID-19

Claire Swadling, a sophomore high school student at Canton High School, shares how the coronavirus has brought both disappointment and hope.

Photo courtesy of the author

It started as a low rumble, as many things do. Students would reference the virus in the hallway, before class or occasionally during track practice. Teachers dismissed anxiety with a wave of their hand, proceeding to detail the day’s lesson plans in earnest.

No one really seemed scared.

At that time, the coronavirus was treated like any other piece of news. A joke to be guffawed at by the freshman on the lacrosse team. An opportunity to deconstruct germ theory in biology. School proceeded as it always did.

I continued living life like any other sleep-deprived, 16-year-old high school sophomore.

As the first cases in Michigan were confirmed, the idea of a school shutdown was toyed with. At first an amorphous bit of clay tossed between anxious hands, the concept quickly gained legitimacy as nearby districts closed their doors.

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Seemingly overnight, Canton High School’s bubble of suppressed panic had burst, leaving us in the wake of a global pandemic. Before I made it to first hour on Friday, March 13, I already knew that Gov. Whitmer had ordered all schools to be closed for three weeks (later extended for the rest of the school year), plus spring break, beginning that Monday.

Handling academic changes

Personally, I was excited. I knew I would finally have a chance to pursue my hobbies and get some well-deserved sleep. When I got home, I made a list of all the tasks I wanted to complete during quarantine.

From collage making and piano playing to bread baking and Netflix binging, I couldn’t stop thinking about everything I would be free to do. I went to bed that night with a month’s worth of possibilities before me.

However, not everything has been as I had hoped.

The first disappointment came in the form of schoolwork. I was dismayed to learn that, while nothing could be counted for points, teachers are still allowed to send us “supplementary materials.”

To me and many of my peers, this is worse than the assignments being required; many of us “good students” would feel obliged to do the work anyway, meaning we’d have to trudge through French conjugations with no grade boosts as a reward.

Additionally, I was disheartened to learn that Advanced Placement (AP) tests (examinations taken at the end of designated courses to receive college credit) are still a go. Instead of the normal in-person assessments taken at a local college, however, these tests would be taken online at home. They would be composed solely of free-response questions.

So … not only do we have to study for these tests without teacher instruction, but we don’t have the luxury of multiple choice. As a self-motivated learner, I found these announcements particularly demoralizing. My personal projects would have to take a backseat, at least until the afternoon of each day.

Social life and grade anxieties

The second wave of sadness was the cancellation of afterschool activities. While not an athlete myself (we brainiacs prefer the term “mathletes”, thank you very much), one of my close friends had been eagerly awaiting her last season as tennis captain.

Personally, I was dejected to find out that all of my Science Olympiad competitions had been cancelled. Others I know were reeling from robotics, dance team and art club woes.

For many teenagers, like myself, extracurriculars are an excuse for us to hang out with friends we don’t see during the day. Thus, the virus reaps our social lives, as well.

As a result, our mental health has taken a hit.

“I’m alright but I’m bored,” one of my friends messaged me. “I’m kinda stressed about the whole not going to school thing.”

Another classmate lamented, “I’m getting really anxious … I almost had a panic attack today,” she confided, worried about her math grade.

Clearly, our time off wasn’t the break we all expected.

Finding an upside to the virus

Despite all of this, there are undeniable upsides, as well.

As mentioned, catching zzz’s is a big plus. Instead of being jolted awake by the dreaded screech of my alarm, I can awaken to the tender caress of morning sunlight. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I’m proud to say that I’ve never slept past 10:30 am. That extra three and a half hours of sleep undoubtedly makes a difference in my mood, albeit cutting corners on my productive time.

Another positive implication of quarantine could be social media. Notice my choice of words here. For those of us who can exercise ample self-control (myself included, I like to think), communicative technology can be an invaluable means to maintain connections and prevent loneliness.

These apps allow us to maintain bonds formed in class and keep ourselves light hearted with meme-infested humor. They also give tech-savvy advocates the platform they need to bring COVID-19-related awareness to the world.

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