Stories at the start of the pandemic

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Vish Gondesi

Read people’s thoughts and emotions at the start of the pandemic: and how they reflect upon them today.

When the lockdown before spring break occurred, Huron physical education teacher Sara Smigell was shocked. 

“I had many thoughts simultaneously,” she said. “I was shocked, sad, nervous, but also hopeful that we could ‘flatten the curve’ if everyone did their part. I did not, however, think we would still be teaching and learning from home one year later.”

Smigell expressed her and her family’s positive quarantine experience. Having two teachers, a middle school student and an elementary student with a dog had helped the family tighten their bonds and ensure that they construct a healthy everyday routine that consisted of exercising and enduring new hobbies. 

Smigell feels as though quarantine didn’t necessarily impact her mental, emotional or physical health too much. However, she feels as though it reminded her and her family of fundamental life lessons.

“The quarantine did remind us to slow down and not take the simple things like a hug from a loved one or a friend or gatherings with extended family and friends for granted,” Smigell said.

As for her own children, they have already returned to school full time expressing that though there are many restrictions, they are enjoying being back in-person.

“I’m feeling ready to get back into Huron and connect with my students and colleagues,” Smigell said. “I miss the small interactions and side conversations between lessons. I miss hearing students laughing in the hallways while playing games during PE. I miss the ‘light bulb’ moments when students learn from interacting with their peers. I miss talking with and learning from my colleagues. I miss a lot.”

Freshman Sawako Sakamoto and her friends made a six-page-long list of everything they planned to do over the 2020 summer, when they thought the pandemic would surely be over. Camping, picnics, celebrating birthdays, going to the mall and making TikToks if they were “still a thing.” Scrolling through the list, you’d see big projects, like traveling somewhere with lots of people, and smaller ones, like homemade ice cream. There are hopeful little conversations all over the document, arguments over what movies they would watch when they were all together. When they were all together, it would be the best summer ever. 

“I thought it was just going to be an extra week off, so it felt nice to get a break,” Sawako said. “The turning point was when we realized that lockdown would last all throughout summer. Overall, quarantine was a negative experience, because everything was cancelled and we couldn’t really do anything.”

Senior Sophie Hammond was initially ecstatic that the pandemic offered her a full two weeks off school in order to study for her upcoming exams. Hammond finally realized that the pandemic was utterly destructive when September came, cases were rising and all hope of in-person classes were lost. 

“I remember before we really left school saying, ‘I heard we might be gone for three weeks instead of two,’” Hammond said. “Later I remember saying, ‘Some people think this might last until June!’ I definitely had high hopes to return to school this year, however this was a disappointment.”

Hammond was excited for all the opportunities that her senior year were going to offer. However, she ended up missing out on her chance to perform in two musicals, her senior experience at Interlochen and the chase to direct the multicultural assembly.  

“To me, I’ve had high hopes of going back multiple times only to be disappointed, so I’ve started being cautiously hopeful whenever going back is on the table,” Hammond said. 

Having limited social interaction has proved hard for Hammond and she’s scared how this might affect her freshman year of college. 

“I think I’ve learned that I need a lot more social interaction than I thought,” Hammond said. “I’ve also learned that everyone is feeling isolated during this time and it’s not just me. I’ve tried to be really attentive to my feelings and be patient with myself and what I can achieve that day instead of being frustrated by my lack of motivation. I’ve also learned that dwelling on the things that we’ve lost and missed out on can really bum me out, so it’s important to take time during the day to focus on uplifting stories wherever you can find them to keep a healthy perspective.”

Hammond believes that she is a realist as her hopes haven’t gotten too high that school will restart for her senior year of high school. Even though many teachers have already been vaccinated, hybrid systems for high school are harder to plan out than elementary schools due to many students having different schedules and class sizes being so large. Not only does Hammond believe that she has missed out on all the experiences that she has been looking forward to since starting high school,  such as prom and graduation, she thinks that online school isn’t the best option for everyone. 

“I adamantly believe that online learning is not effective, however this is through no fault of the teachers,” Hammond said. Personally, I’ve had a lot of difficulty motivating myself to finish work, study, or stay focused.” 

Staying focused and working hard has proved difficult with the inability to work with table mates, do group projects, seeing friends in the hallways, eating lunch with friends, connecting and laughing with people on a daily basis. On the bright side,  Hammond has learned to be more resilient, connected better with her family and explore other creative outlets other than performing. 

“For me, I’ve been able to spend a ton of time trying out different things during this time,” Hammond said. “Sadly, I haven’t been able to sing or act as much as usual which has definitely left an empty space that I’ve been trying to fill with other things. I’ve loved baking and cooking the most because it’s so rewarding and delicious to spend time on something and then still have it to enjoy.”

No matter how positive her experience in expanding her culinary skills has been, Hammond is ready to get back to school. While in the beginning of the pandemic she was thrilled at the opportunity to get more estudy time in, now online school has defeated Hammond’s spirit to learn. Hammond understands both perspectives on whether or not people should go back to school. However, since the hybrid system is optional she hopes that Ann Arbor Public Schools will present seniors with the opportunity to finish their year in-person if they desire.

“I see a lot of people saying that ‘people are dying’ and ‘it’s selfish to be sad about school’ but I think invalidating people’s feelings through statements like that are really damaging,” Hammond said. “Yes, this pandemic has been a horrible experience for many people and I am extremely lucky in how I have been affected, but yes of course I still feel the loss of my senior year a lot — and that’s totally okay. Graduation and prom are both important because they are such a right of passage as a senior. They’re such a quintessential part to high school and they help seniors find closure from the past four years and prepare to move on and celebrate the work they’ve done over the last four years together.”