Rising Voices Fellows Respond to Coronavirus
The coronavirus pandemic has radically changed our everyday lives. People throughout the world are dealing with their own sets of disruptions. People are getting sick, people are dying, and people are losing loved ones. As of March 26th, 3.3 million Americans have filed for unemployment, signifying a loss of income that will likely have effects far longer than the disease itself. As schools across the nation close, education gaps will likely grow, affecting students for years to come. As Rising Voices Fellows, we want to give a glimpse into what these disruptions look like in our communities and our lives as high school students. It can be overwhelming to read or watch the news while dealing with the disruptions in our own lives. We hope that we can all find ways to stay connected and compassionate and to support each other through this epidemic, and in rebuilding and reforming when it is over. – Ellanora Lerner, Rising Voices Fellow 2019-20
Below are a collection of the roundtable responses from our Fellows. Download the full text of the RVF roundtable.
How is your school addressing the rise of COVID-19 in the United States? What do you think about this approach? How has it affected your learning?
Lilah Peck: My school has transferred to remote learning which essentially means all of our classes are done online. We communicate through PowerSchool learning, email, and Microsoft One Note notebooks. They have canceled all athletic events (and all events in general) and closed campus. I am very extroverted so it is very challenging for me to keep my energy up all day as I sit at my computer (regardless of if I am inside/outside wherever). Despite my love of scheduling and organization, it is very challenging for me to enforce (enough) structure and routine into my days. I feel far less energized and excited to learn, though normally I love school and learning. I feel kind of pouty and in a funk but I think as I get a better routine I will get over it.
Lila Goldstein: My school has begun online learning in response to the pandemic. Although our school has utilized online programs (like Google Classroom) to aid instruction in the past, shifting education online completely has been a struggle. Daily lesson plans are mainly up to the individual teacher, which means more now than ever that my educational experience is inconsistent from day to day, and always dependent on technology/internet that doesn't always work. Although I know there is little that my teachers and administration can do in this situation, this approach is unsatisfactory all around. I am privileged to have access to computers and steady internet access, but I am unsure of how my classmates without that privilege are coping with remote learning. I am grateful for my teachers, who are trying their hardest during this time to continue supporting us.
Ellanora Lerner: During the first two weeks that my school was canceled, teachers sent out individual assignments. After that, the school set up a schedule of online classes. I am very lucky to attend a very small school where we all have access to school-provided laptops. This is a privilege and one that makes it much easier for our school to switch to an online model. As a second-semester senior, I’m not greatly concerned with my own loss of learning. However, I worry that the lost time will impact the younger students at my school, and at other schools around the country. I am also disappointed that many events and projects I was looking forward to this last semester have been or likely will be canceled. It has also affected my college decision process because it has caused the cancellation of admitted students days and final campus visits.
How does where you live affect your experience of the current moment?
Ilana Drake: I live on the Upper West Side of New York City. I feel fortunate to have the ability to clear my head by walking outside. I also live in a neighborhood that has diverse food options, so we have been making more of an effort to support local cafes and restaurants. However, this week my apartment feels smaller because my parents, brother, and I are working at home and all of the common areas in our building (conference rooms, play room, and gym) are closed. As a result, my parents have opened our shades as much as possible in order to increase the natural lighting and allow us to see the world around us.
Lila Goldstein: On a normal spring day in Florida, the streets in my neighborhood are filled with bikers and runners, the tennis and basketball courts are filled, and the beaches are packed with tourists and locals alike. When the calls for social distancing were first made, I found my community and state slow to act; outdoor and social activities are a part of everyday life that are extremely difficult to part with, especially for an unknown length of time. Thankfully, I have seen a gradual acceptance of the new social rules set forth by the pandemic.
Sasha Azizi Rosenfeld: I live 30 minutes away from New York City, which currently is the most at risk place in the United States. One of my moms lives there, and because of that and the fact that she is a doctor who still works and sees patients every day, I can’t visit her. The closest we have come to hanging out is her driving here and standing 10 feet away from me in my backyard, where we converse at above normal volume to hear each other through the large space.
What do you see happening in your communities around COVID-19?
Lilah Peck: Everything is closing. It is pretty much that simple. And that's depressing. Events to look forward to are all gone. They just vanished! It's hard to find stuff to look forward to which makes the whole experience that much more challenging.
Ella Plotkin-Oren: All community events are canceled/postponed due to COVID-19. One positive thing I see happening and have participated in is organizing help for the elderly. They are at risk and so different communities have been setting up grocery runs for them. I've been helping my elderly neighbors with whatever errands they may have and just staying as safe as possible.
Maddy Pollack: One of the communities that's been hit really hard by COVID is the service industry. I work at a restaurant downtown and I got laid off along with a lot of my coworkers. Luckily, it doesn't affect me terribly because I'm still supported by my parents, but I know some people in the industry that are really struggling right now. In general, I think everyone is trying to protect and support each other, from practicing social distancing to donating money to relief organizations. It's refreshing to see the Austin community taking the pandemic seriously.
What are you doing to ground and to stay connected?
Ellie Klibaner-Schiff: My friend and I started a lighthearted newsletter called the "Quarantine Chronicles" to keep our school community connected and updated. Students and teachers submit photos or vlogs of what they've been up to, book/movie/music recommendations, or any other content they want to share. In our most recent issue, we had a section called "Pandemic Fashion" featuring pictures and drawings of people donned in protective gear during other pandemics such as the Spanish Flu of 1918 and the Bubonic Plague. I've also been making a really conscious effort to reach out to my friends who I don't see in class, because it's so easy to fall out of touch when you can't say "hi" walking down the hallway.
Sasha Rosenfeld: I’m trying to keep a schedule for myself now that I don’t have a rigid schedule around school. This includes running every day, trying to eat healthy, keeping a normal bedtime, etc. To stay connected I have been FaceTiming friends and participating in zoom calls with my family and friends. I have also had the time to participate in Shabbat, which I have Zoom-called into with my whole camp community.
Dahlia Soussan: I have been focusing on calling my friends every day and making time to talk in the middle of the day as if I were at school. I FaceTimed with my extended family in Toronto and got them to walk me through their homes on FaceTime to feel a bit more connected. My grandma is living on her own as well, but I respect how she's made a conscious effort to learn how to use video conference software to stay integrated and I try to help her get practice with video chat as well because it's grounding for me to spend time with family face to face and important for older people to stay integrated during a time when they are often forgotten.
What's giving you hope for the future right now?
Mica Maltzman: Walking through my neighborhood at noon on a weekday and knowing that every house is filled with people at that moment is what gives me hope for the future. In my short 18 years on this planet, I have never seen, not just my neighborhood, but nearly all of society commit to such a drastic lifestyle change. While slower than needed, the nearly universal quarantine people have adopted still boggles my mind every day. Having seen such a commitment to mass action, I have hope that our nation can mobilize again on issues new and old. There are no excuses now that combatting climate change is too daunting of a task or mobilizing the electorate is some unattainable goal.
Ari Fogel: As our country shifts towards more socialist policies during this time of fear and anxiety, I have a lot of hope that Americans will realize that socialism is possible in the US. People have been begging for expansions to the health care sector for years as the military budget is inflated by trillions every year. I'm hopeful that people will realize how inequitable our health care system is and that serious, long-lasting reform is ahead. As horrible and devastating this pandemic has already been, even in its early stages, I hope that our country will be able to take this experience to create a progressive change that is long overdue.
I have a feeling that the Trump administration's abysmal response to the pandemic, especially Trump's constant spread of misinformation and the inability of Americans to rely on the WH for information, will cost them the 2020 election. I believe that our country will see how dangerous their policies truly are; however, it is disheartening that it took a pandemic to realize that.
Neima Fax: Communities across the country within days came together to create plans for flattening the curve, and I truly believe they can continue to unite and cooperate on the latest pressing issues. I think people are now realizing the true value of human connection. When we are free from our homes again, I know that I won't ever want to have a "lazy day" in again. I will take advantage of being able to go outside. I will take advantage of the communities I am a part of because I know that they can be taken away from me at any second. I truly think this experience will change people for the better. I also think it is making people more aware of the true backbones of our society. The doctors, the people working in grocery stores, etc. They are the people who run our society, and we are thankful for them now more than ever. My hope is that that appreciation doesn't fade.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.