‘Unprecedented Times’ … Commemorating the Anniversary of the COVID-19 Pandemic

In early 2020, COVID was nothing but a small virus on the other side of the world that slowly became a looming threat on the horizon. The world in March of 2020 looked very different from the world in March of 2021. The Green + Black interviewed principal Rauschkolb, where he said that “There is no doubt that this past year has been full of challenges, frustrations, and loss. None of us have ever experienced anything like this.” As this historic anniversary marking one year of the COVID-19 pandemic passes, we look back and reflect on the events of the past year that changed life as we know it.

 

Online school has become a symbol of the pandemic for students. A new set of social/academic rules arose as Zoom classes became the norm. Mercer Stauch (Junior) commented that “Zoom calls have improved my ability to share my ideas because online you have to think through everything you say before it comes out of your mouth. The mute button is terrifying, so you better be prepared.” It is clear that technology has played a crucial, but sometimes harmful part of life in this pandemic. People now use services like Webex, Teams, and Zoom to connect to work, school, and even host funerals. Zoom even saw its daily meeting participants multiplied by 30 in 2020 according to a Business of Apps article. However, this technology can’t replicate human interaction, and mental health has suffered as a result. Teens turned to social media to fill the void, mental health declined as screen time rose. According to a Statista graph, the number of children/teens using electronics for more than four hours daily doubled during the pandemic. Technology use during the pandemic became a love/hate relationship as the world faced a steep technological learning curve. Despite technology’s contradictions, our modern society wouldn’t have been able to survive without the digital solutions employed. As stated by principal Rauschkolb: “The new way of doing things and communicating will be what we take with us moving forward.” For better or for worse, technology is here to stay.

 

While some have thrived in online school, others have had significant academic setbacks. Guidance Counselor Leah Messinger commented on students’ attention in online school, saying, “With kids not being able to engage in extracurriculars they’re not as focused because having activities outside of school helps students build a routine.” She anticipates that a return to all in-person learning will begin to correct some of these issues by restoring a sense of normalcy. Messinger went on to say how “Some students aren’t able to prioritize academics at this moment because the responsibilities of life have become too big.” For students that work full-time jobs to support their families and take care of siblings, challenges created by COVID became more pressing than schoolwork. The academic struggles of this past year may have impacts for years to come.

 

Many extracurriculars have had to alter their practices and traditions to survive. Sadly, many students lost their connection to others who shared their interests and have lost long-anticipated experiences. Lilly Mastrangelo (Junior) describes her deja vu while preparing for State Mock Trial on March 12, 2021, saying, “I thought about how State got canceled last year, and I was looking back at my phone for the day when everything shut down and I realized that it was March 12, 2020 – the exact same day. Exactly a year ago I was in the middle of my round at State and my life got taken away.” She went on to explain how her state experience this year was redemption after her missed opportunity a year ago, echoing principal Rauschkolb’s words: “We’ve learned how to innovate, have learned new skills, and we have realized that we are more resilient than we ever knew.” 

 

This resilience was especially important for athletes at Niwot as the high school sports world became very complicated when seasons shifted. Niwot’s fields, gym, and track became eerily quiet as practices stopped. Many Colorado high school teams saw dramatic dips in turnout for sports seasons as students’ lives were thrown into limbo by the pandemic. Every athlete at Niwot has their own story of how the time off from rigorous training changed their physical/mental game, and many athletes have had time to practice individually to get ahead. Steph Mow (Sophomore) shared the disadvantages and benefits, saying that she has noticed a growing distance between her teammates as COVID has forced the team into isolation and has been able to make individual personal gains by doing home workouts and running.

 

In big cities across the world, the pandemic seemed to affect communities very differently from how it does in Longmont. The Green and Black spoke to students from around the world to see how the pandemic has affected them. Aliza Rooker, a Canadian high school student in Vancouver, emphasized the effect COVID has had on tourism: “Living downtown in the heart of Vancouver we generally have many tourists, but COVID has prevented this, and the lack of tourists creates a smaller flow of income.” Rooker also shared his shock adapting to a new way of life – a feeling most teens can relate to: “When COVID first hit, it was extremely hard for me to adjust to a new life.”

 

Simultaneous to the COVID pandemic, another virus took hold of society: loneliness. Social interaction became incredibly difficult under COVID guidelines. Guidance Counselor Leah Messinger offered insight into these mental health challenges, saying, “This has been a unique opportunity to really think about our strengths and ways to cope through unparalleled challenges. Students, staff, families… everybody’s mental health has been impacted.” According to statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the percentage of US adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder rose from 11.0% (Jan-June 2019) to 41.1% in January 2021. It’s easy to think that the challenges we faced with mental health as individuals happened only to us, but in reality, most students struggled in isolation. Nick Stade (Junior) said that he went through many changes as a result of the ups and downs of the past year: “I changed a lot … before, I was really focused on social stuff and when COVID started I went through some emotional pain that made me tougher now.” Reese Ransweiler (Junior) described her time in quarantine as regenerative but at a cost, saying, “At first I liked having time to recharge, but being forced into isolation wasn’t the best feeling in the world long-term.”

 

However, this time away from the world had many personal benefits as well. Isolation allowed people to get to know themselves, catalyzing positive change. Stade went on to say, “I can study for longer, practice for longer, and focus for longer now because I’m tougher…I am more focused on myself.” Ransweiler echoed these thoughts, saying, “[Isolation] helped me establish who I wanted to be by allowing me to understand who I was.” For many students, the most important relationship they developed over the past year was with themselves. 

 

The way we approach relationships with others has also changed dramatically. Sreya Karumanchi (Junior), spoke about how the meaning of friendship became evident during lockdown. She described how people spending time together in small groups created friendships that were built on valuing each other and deeper personal connections. She went on to say that, “Good people are so much closer than you thought they were. You start to appreciate all of the things that the people around you have given you.” The same can be said about familial relationships. As teens were stuck inside, they got to spend more time with their families and some learned to value them that little bit more.

 

The extraordinary effects COVID has had on American society are far-reaching. The pandemic hit during an election year, increasing social conflict and widening political divides. Although the current American response to COVID has improved, the initial government action seemed insufficient. The effects of misinformation/denial from government officials and social media have influenced the public’s view of the pandemic and caused cases to rise. Additionally, the divides between states became clear as fifty governing bodies handled the pandemic without central control. People who have managed to travel safely during COVID can attest to the fact that entering each state comes with new rules relating to masks, quarantining, and distancing. These rules were set by health officials and governors in each state, who were influenced by the political scenes of their respective states. 

 

The division over fact and fiction grew in politics and everyday conversation, damaging the public’s response to the virus. American values of freedom and division of power had an impact on the response to this pandemic. While some saw masks as essential to public safety others saw them as a breach of freedom. Websites and public figures that perpetuated misinformation further divided an already partisan society. Health officials lacked information on the virus in its early stages, causing uncertainty to be misplaced. A Niwot student who wished to remain anonymous described their struggle with convincing family members to be more careful: “I remember having to explain to my dad why wearing a mask protects others and not you.” Many students can relate to these difficult conversations as Americans were asked to make choices for the good of their communities, even if the choices were not easy. 

 

The number of changes that society has seen in just one year is overwhelming, and everyone has their own story to tell about the way that the past year has changed them. Although we were physically separated we faced every challenge together. Now, Niwot students resume all in-person learning after Spring Break – a stark contrast to March 2020 and a source of hope that normalcy is slowly returning. Most Niwot staff are now fully vaccinated, and students are currently predicted to receive their vaccines as the summer approaches – there is light at the end of a year-long tunnel. principal Rauschkolb expressed his hope for the future in light of past struggles, saying, “Overall, the time of the pandemic will be one in which we look back on with mixed emotions, and I’m extremely proud of all of us in the Niwot High School community for making it through this together.” Despite the losses we have suffered, we can find gratitude in the experience by choosing to acknowledge all of the things that have been gained in overcoming these challenges.