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This essay shared third prize in the East County Leadership Council (ECLC) 2021 COVID-19 essay contest. Prize money has been provided through the generosity of ECLC donors and a grant from the Foundation for Economic Justice.

By Merna Poulis

El Cajon Valley High School student

July 12, 2021 (San Diego's East County) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has affected numerous aspects of our society today. Hand sanitizing stations have been installed in every corner. Physical touch has been frowned upon for the past year, and distance is the new normal. Masks have become a substantial part of our everyday look. Going to school, or receiving an education has easily been one of the biggest challenges that everyone has had to face. Overall, COVID-19 has strongly impacted each and every one of us, but the classrooms have changed the way students view school physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

To some people, school is a dreadful part of their days, and to others, school is the most enjoyable aspect of their lives. Now, school has been split into so many different forms, whether that’s fully distanced learning, a blend of both in-person and online learning, or fully in-person learning, which leaves students and parents having to make many different decisions based off of how they want to be taught/learn, which could’ve also resulted in parents becoming their children’s teachers/tutors. Before this pandemic happened, it never occurred to anyone how they generally preferred to learn. For some students, online learning is ideal because they can work on their own time, and for others, physically going to school is a better option due to possible distractions at home. This has been a time of confusion for everyone, and students have had to deal with added pressure based on how they want to learn. Many students would prefer to go back to school physically so that they can socialize with their friends and have some sort of normalcy back in their lives, but they are required to distance themselves from one another and don’t even have the ability to talk to one another during passing periods as long as before. This can mentally and emotionally affect how some students perceive school and their social lives because they can’t enjoy being around others at school like they were able to before this pandemic surprisingly changed everything. 

As the school year continues, students are approaching the next level of their education, which is usually an exciting time, but it has been morphed into stress-inducing events. Due to almost everything being virtual, students face big tasks, such as college applications, SAT/ACT testing, and basic class information on their own. This past year has felt like a year of independence, which is always preferable, but guidance is required for students to know how to prepare for standardized tests, interviews, college applications, and how to pass their now virtual classes.  It has even taken a large toll on students’ mental health, especially since sitting in front of a computer screen for hours on end trying to figure out what to do first is extremely stressful and intimidating. Everyone has turned to technology for assistance to get through any challenge, but guidance helps students feel more comfortable in achieving their future goals, such as getting into college and graduating.

This pandemic has affected each and every one of us, but personally, I’ve had a unique experience. During the pandemic, I moved from Arizona to California, which resulted in a change of schools in the middle of my junior year. In Arizona, I had a developed friend group, a job, and a “home-state” that I had lived in for nearly my entire life. Moving to California didn’t upset me as much as leaving my friends did. I had to continue the school year at a new school, with different classes, teachers, and in a different city. It was difficult trying to meet new people and make new friends because of the many guidelines that needed to be followed in order to be safe. This was a completely different experience for me because my high school in Arizona was pretty much going back to normal, and at my new school, I was bombarded with online classes once again. Online learning affected me so much, to the point where I didn’t have the motivation to do any of my schoolwork, and I believe that many other students have felt the same. The study-habits that I worked so hard on slowly disappeared as the pandemic took place, and especially during quarantine. My personal experience with the COVID-19 pandemic may seem irrelevant to any stranger walking down the street, but the importance of my experience and others’ experiences is that they are all unique. The pandemic has affected me in different ways than it might have affected a teacher, nurse, doctor, or a business owner. It’s crucial to understand that everyone’s lives have changed in one way or another throughout the past year and a half, and that’s to be expected because after all, it was a global pandemic that affected every individual around the world. As the COVID-19 pandemic is thankfully coming to an end with the vaccines being administered, life can slowly go back to normal, and that has been visible. It’s critical to remember that many different people have retained a lot of trauma from the pandemic, so it would be extremely beneficial for all people to come out of this pandemic being as supportive to one another as possible. Schools are slowly allowing students to learn the way they used to, small businesses and restaurants have been able to open up again, and families have been able to reunite. It was a long time coming, but there’s always a light at the end of every tunnel, and although this may have been an extremely difficult tunnel to get through, students, teachers, nurses, doctors, mothers, fathers, and everyone else has been able to grow from a time period that no one saw coming. The year 2020 was definitely one for the books for many different reasons, but it should be noted as a year of tremendous growth.


Reprints of this essay must credit the author as follows: “Third Prize Winner in the East County Leadership Council 2021 COVID-19 Essay Contest.”

©2021 East County Leadership Council. Reprint permission granted if attribution properly noted.


The other winning essays:





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