Life and learning in a new normal: Mid-South teens share their COVID-19 experiences

It’s official. All public schools in Shelby County are closed until fall at the behest of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.

For Memphis area teens, the novel coronavirus pandemic will likely be the defining event of their young lives, much like 9/11 was for older Millennials almost 20 years ago.

"It kind of struck me one day that this is going to be in history books and people are going to ask me what I was doing," said Kalisa Lee, a junior at Collegiate School of Memphis.

Students are now navigating a new world of online learning and trying to stay connected to friends while social distancing.

Teens are also more aware of the world around them and their families' 'adult' problems—worries about health and risk, employment, covering basic bills, etc. Many understand that the pandemic will have long-term impacts and will affect their plans for their young adulthood.

For some students, months-long closures are a welcomed break from school. For others, the combination of social isolation and an unclear path forward raises anxiety and fear. 

High Ground News sat down with five high school students for their perspectives on their semester with COVID-19 and what happens next.

[Note: Some responses edited for length and/or minor edits for clarity.]
 

KALISA LEE

16 years old
Junior, Collegiate School of Memphis
Private School
Kalisa Lee (Submitted)

How have you been processing life in the pandemic?
I’ve definitely had some bad days and been anxious. I’ve just been trying to keep going one day at a time. I’ve been trying to document my progress on video diaries. I’ve been making them for my future kids and my grandkids for when they ask ‘what was it like being quarantined?’

What do you miss most about school?
I’m definitely missing my friends. I feel really bad for the seniors this year. I have classes with a lot of them. They’re missing out on a lot. I’m having to miss my junior prom too so it’s a little sad.

I’m still connecting with people. I’m always on social media trying to let people know I’m still here.
 

ERICA MILLER

16 years old 
Junior, Central High School
Shelby County Schools
Erica Miller (submitted)


So, how are you feeling?
I feel a little bit of everything.

At first, I was really grateful to have a break.

Now, everything just seemed to get put on pause—work, AP classes, college applications. It’s kind of helped me to relax. But now, I have to be honest, I am starting to get a bit bored.

How are you adjusting to remote learning?
It’s been really difficult to stay motivated. I’m not getting any grades. There’s no structure. I’m now taking only three classes instead of six. It’s been rough.

I didn’t realize how much I needed the structure until I didn’t have it anymore.

 

AVANI G.

17 years old 
Junior, Houston High School
Germantown Municipal Schools
Avani G. (Submitted)

This global pandemic is big. It's impacting a  lot. How are you feeling?
For me, it still really hasn’t sunk in that this is happening.

I am a little anxious about the end of the school year and how everything is going to work out. At the same time, there’s really nothing I can do about it but try to stay home and social distance.

What do you think the world will be like when this is over?
I think we’ll be more scared of each other. We won’t just—boom—go back to how we were before [COVID-19]. We either have to get population immunity or a vaccine. It’s going to be a gradual process.
 

JAYLON MCCARLEY

17 years old
Junior, Germantown High School
Shelby County Schools
Jaylon McCarley (submitted)

What's your biggest lesson learned since March?
I think the main thing is that people can really just focus more on the things that actually matter in life—like spending time with your family. Sometimes people are always at work and they don’t have time to be with their family. So I feel like this is just an opportunity for us to just spend some time with family and just enjoy them.

You’ve missed the last of your junior year.  Is that good or bad?
I initially was kind of happy when I thought we just had an extra week for spring break. But then when I saw the severity of the epidemic, I was kind of like ‘Whoa! This is way too much!'

I just wished we were back in school.

INDIA CROSS
16 years old
Junior, Bartlett High School
Bartlett City Schools

India Cross (Submitted)
How have you been adjusting to this new normal?
I’m naturally a homebody so this wasn’t a huge shock for me. I like to look on the bright side. I’ve been able to spend time with my family and do creative projects around the house with my dad. I’ve also done some painting and writing.

I’m just trying to maintain my mental health as much as I can.

What do you think the world will appreciate the most when we come out of this?
I was just talking about this with my friend the other day. We were talking about how when this is all said and done, we’re going to make a bucket list. But our bucket list is going to be completely different than what it used to be. It’s going to be common things like going for a walk. I am going to be much more appreciative of the tiny things that I’m missing out on now.

Read more articles by Ashley Davis.

Ashley Foxx Davis is an author, educator, artist and Memphis native. She's been featured in Glamour, Ebony, and Essence magazines; Blackenterprise.com; TheRoot.com; and BET.com. Find her at kifanipress.com.
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