By Gina V. Ramsey
In a surprising opportunity to experience the old adage, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,’ students all over Long Beach realized something quite shocking during the Covid-19 pandemic: many of them missed being at school!
Schools are one of the most impactful communities in a child’s life. Not just for the knowledge acquired but for the relationships they will undoubtedly build, and the memories they will create. One cannot put a price on the interpersonal, face-to-face connections a student will form with fellow classmates, their teachers, campus staff, and teammates during class, club meetings and sports rallies.
Students even missed the campus itself — the vending machine that has the best snacks or the bathroom that is always properly stocked.
For high school seniors who were robbed of their prom and graduation, the realization of school’s importance was highlighted, and the sting of distance-learning hurt them most. Current seniors are waking up to the significance of their in-person education, as well as their level of involvement with on-campus activities.
Long Beach Poly Senior, Shamiyah Sweet, has a newfound appreciation for being in school.
“Distance learning at first was pretty cool because it was fun going to class in my pajamas,” Shamiyah said. “But I did miss the interactions with my classmates, teachers, and friends.”
She especially missed the social activities such as pep rallies and football games.
“[Distance-learning] was an interesting experience but an experience I don’t want to go through again.”
Not only has Shamiyah stepped up her campus involvement but she has also made many new friendships. She volunteers in her school’s Link Crew, a club that welcomes high school freshman by providing them peer mentorship as they transition into high school. She has also volunteered as an athletic trainer for the football team. As a gymnast for several years, physical fitness is a top priority in her life.
“I feel that I am more involved at school and more outgoing because Covid shed light on how much I missed my friends and classmates,” she said.
Shamiyah, who is planning to attend the University of Oregon and major in Political Science, also volunteers with off-campus organizations but to make sure she feels more connected at school she tries to participate on-campus as much as possible.
“Even if they are small commitments like spirit week, football games, rallies, and going to dances,” she said. “Or big commitments like joining clubs such as Link Crew or volunteering at school.”
The positive side of distance-learning was that it made Shamiyah more aware of who she is and how she works best.
“I realized that I love and enjoy my alone time. I didn’t realize how independent and responsible I am,” she said. “I realized how adaptive I am to change.”
For Millikan High Senior, Lexi Garbiero, the transition from at-home learning back to campus proved a little more difficult. The habits born during distance-learning slightly impeded her momentum.
“I can strongly say that most people enjoyed distance-learning because they were able to lay back and quite literally sleep through classes,” she said. “Most people were just doing what needed to be done to get by, which did not benefit any of us once we returned to school.”
Regardless, Lexi has enjoyed getting back on campus and would choose in-person learning any day, because, as she has realized, there are some things that cannot be experienced unless one is in school.
“Getting to have that connection with your teacher, a true understanding of a subject, school events, and of course friends you see every day,” she said. “These are things only in-person learning can bring you.”
Lexi, who is on her school’s advanced dance team and participates in campus clubs and organizations, describes herself as someone who has always tried to keep herself busy with activities, but decided to take it ‘a step-further’ with her school involvement this year.
“I wanted to experience more this year than others because for so much time I didn’t have the chance to,” she said.
Lexi tries to attend every football game and sign up for anything she can, including her school pageant.
“I had always wanted to [be a contestant] since freshman year but I continued to tell myself I wouldn’t because I’d be too busy,” she said. “Not to say that I wasn’t insanely busy once I actually did it, but I just decided to say, ‘why not,’ and give it a shot.”
The Ram Pageant is an annual contest open to all students and consists of four categories: costume, talent, formal wear, and answering questions.
“I also have been able to continue dancing both in and out of school which has brought me immense happiness,” said Lexi. “I have had the honor of being one of my school’s dance captains landing me even more opportunities, allowing me to practice my leadership.”
The fact that this is her last high school year has prompted her to make a concerted effort to reach out to more faculty and staff to build connections.
“I wanted to create more bonds. The teachers, counselors, staff members, etc. are the building blocks to our schools and without them, we’d have nothing,” she said. “I have connected with members that I usually wouldn’t have crossed paths with, and in the end, it has brought me closer to the school.”
Like for so many, being forced to stay home and away from others made Lexi more aware of the significance of relationships, and yet without being obligated to stay home, she might not have made the effort to form new important friendships.
“Covid helped me to realize how much I missed people. I love me some alone time, don’t get me wrong, but there is just something so special about human interaction, and when it’s ripped away in an instant it’s hard to adjust,” she said. “So as soon as we got back [to campus], I made sure to connect with as many people as I could, and in the end, I found ‘my people.’ It sounds cheesy but I’m over the moon happy with the friendships I’ve made this year. I have connected with people I hope to carry with me forever. So as much as we all hated our lives being put on pause, I’m thankful it did because it taught me to appreciate those around me a thousand times more.”
Lexi plans to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for Biological Sciences and hopes to continue dancing and keep making meaningful connections wherever she goes.
“I don’t have a perfect plan in mind, but I have decided to let my heart guide me,” she said. “I can happily say that the little free time I have is so worth it with all the new experiences I am gaining.”
Lessons from Covid
The pandemic was a harsh lesson for so many reasons, for so many students. But the fact that high school seniors like Shamiyah and Lexi have taken this opportunity to become more involved in their education, while fostering new relationships, as well as expanding their experiences, means it was a valuable lesson in learning how rewarding it can be to participate in their school community.
“I encourage anyone to get involved with something that even just slightly intrigues them,” Lexi advises. “I can’t wait to put myself out there and take advantage of every opportunity that is thrown my way.”