In Their Own Words

My experience during the pandemic

Hello, my name is Paige Wallace, and I am currently a grade 12 Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board student, and in this reflection, I’d like to share with you a look into my high school experience.

What you’re probably expecting is a fun-filled paragraph talking about football games and dances, but that is far from the truth. Immediately entering high school, my second semester of Grade 9 was cut very short, in March 2020 to be specific. I remember hearing that school would be cancelled for some amount of time right after a rehearsal with my school’s Glee Club; we were preparing for our biggest performance of the year; we never got to that performance.

At first it was a joke, what even was a pandemic? There’s no way that this can last any longer than March break, right? Wrong. I never really finished my Grade 9 year; for the most part we all just passed and moved on without even learning any of the curriculum. I got my first job during the pandemic, working every day became my life at the age of 14, because what else was I supposed to do?

The summer of 2020, we all thought things might turn around. I saw friends more, started doing some normal teen things, and saw some light, or so I thought. The reality was this false sense of optimistic hope didn’t last long as we moved into cohort-style schooling mixed with increments of online schooling through Grade 10. This was one of the worst times; the truth of how isolated we were was extremely prevalent in school, work, the world. I was exposed to the truth that we were really all alone in this battle, and as students we were being left behind.

With constant calls to action from students, educators and those who work in education practices to the government, we never saw real tangible change. As a Grade 10 student, I had no faith in the systems that work to protect me and my value of education, but I accepted it. Similar to 9th Grade, my 10th Grade year was cut short and finished via Microsoft Teams calls. For me, online learning was incredibly difficult as I thrive off the social apparatus of school, asking questions and having one-on-one communication with teachers and other staff. So, for the first time in my life, I almost failed a class. It might not seem like the end of the world but for someone who’s had straight A’s their whole life … It was out of the ordinary and shocking.

The summer of 2021 went relatively similar to the previous. I hung out with my friend group, did normal teen things the best I could, ignored the news and the dread that came with the idea of living during the present circumstances. Then came Grade 11, “the first normal year” we all said with glee! Not quite. Relatively, this year had a sense of normalcy we had lost but was still acting in quadmesters to begin and had a few online disruptions.

Come second semester, we had gone back to four periods a day, normal scheduling and course load, and what was meant to be the usual high school experience. This felt like a literal bomb being dropped over top of us. What the government forgot to take into account somehow is that we barely know how to work this normal schedule. We were never given the time and skills to develop time management, organizational and even social skills, as well half of us weren’t familiar with the full curriculum because cohorts of one class for 23 days were not enough time to learn concepts.

So here we were, two years into a pandemic, failed by the systems in place to support us, now expected to bounce right back. I know my age is credited for our resilience, but I personally felt like that was a bit much. I think school boards and the government realized that none of us were prepared to jump right back in and over time implemented new tutoring assistance and other programs to help with the after-flow of the pandemic as it takes a lighter grip on our lives.

Now here we are, things are looking up. For us though, after existing in spaces of uncertainty, negativity and with a lack of consistency, we can’t trust it. Who knows what could happen. For me at least, I’m trying to reach graduation, prom, even just the bare minimum June without too many disruptions.

There’s a lot of rebuilding to do post-pandemic; it will not be easy to retrace all our steps and see where we can fill gaps, but it is crucial.

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Paige Wallace

Cathedral High School – Grade 12
Hamilton, Ontario

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