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Bored, Distracted, Unmotivated: South Florida Students Share About Their COVID-19 School Years

Compilation student responses WLRN COC Fair callout.png
Angie Jaramillo, Kelley Surniak and Gabriella Alfred, students at South Broward High School
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Top left, Angie Jaramillo, 16, a sophomore at South Broward High School, drew this picture of a student participating in virtual classes from home in response to WLRN's prompt asking students to share what it was like for them during the pandemic. "The scribbles I drew on top of the head symbolize how my brain has felt over this school year, fried and overworked," Jaramillo wrote about her drawing. Top right, Kelly Surniak, an 18-year-old senior at South Broward, depicted a similar scene. And below, Gabriella Alfred, 15, a freshman at the school, submitted a series of images. The concluding message: "Feeling like I'm wasting my youth."

WLRN asked middle and high schoolers to share messages to their future selves about what it was like to take classes during COVID-19. We talked to them about some of their responses during a live virtual field trip to the South Florida Fair.

To Benjamin Mignola, online school feels "gloomy."

The 15-year-old freshman at South Broward High School used Paint 3D to portray what going to school during COVID-19 has been like: A desk and chair are perched next to a bedroom window. A computer screen warns in big red letters: 99 assignments are missing. Directly above the chair, a dark storm cloud brews, thunderbolts and rain drops erupting from it. The model rotates, showing viewers the perspective from inside the room and outside the house itself.

"You're kind of isolated in your room, not with friends. So I put the room dark, covered by raining clouds and like thunderclouds to represent that," Mignola said during a discussion about the challenges as well as silver linings of virtual learning, as part of WLRN's live virtual field trip to the South Florida Fair.

"And then I made a laptop with a message popping up saying 99 past-due assignments, because it shows the lack of motivation to get assignments done and to actually try and learn in a setting where you wouldn't normally learn," Mignola said.

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Mignola created the animation in response to a prompt from WLRN. As part of our Class of COVID-19 project, we asked middle and high school students to create a message telling their future selves what it was like to go to school during the pandemic.

Mignola's journalism club at South Broward High was one of three groups of students in South Florida who participated in the activity, joining WLRN to share their responses during the live virtual event on Monday.

WLRN's Jessica Bakeman and Wilkine Brutus hosted the field trip to the South Florida Fair, where, this year, there's an exhibit featuring the stories of Class of COVID-19. The project explores how the pandemic made education a lot more difficult for students, teachers and parents all over the state.

Daliana Goins, lead school counselor in the Florida Keys school district, said Mignola's animation reflects what she's been hearing from students throughout the pandemic: They're feeling isolated, anxious, lonely, bored and unmotivated.

"To say that our students have needed us now more than ever is definitely a tremendous understatement," said Goins, who also attended WLRN's virtual field trip.

"Keeping to a schedule, sleeping, eating habits, exercising, getting out and getting some sunlight instead of being in bedrooms and in pajamas all day long — all of those things really work wonders for students and adults, actually," Goins said, offering suggestions for how to cope with the challenges of learning from home.

Goins recommended that students talk to a trusted adult like a parent, teacher or counselor and journal about how they're feeling. She also said they should carve out time for activities that make them feel happy.

"The ultimate goal, of course, is moving forward," Goins said. "It'd be good to help find things that reignite their joy."

Goins said creating and sticking to a schedule has helped a lot of students, especially when they incorporate breaks for fun activities.

"Give yourself permission to do something non-school related sometimes," Goins said. "Find what's important to you and what's fun, what makes you smile and even laugh, and make time in your schedule to do those things. Not time fillers like scrolling through social media, but something that engages the brain a little bit more.

"Some may have even found new things that they've never done, like painting by numbers or pulling out adult puzzles — the harder ones, a thousand pieces and more — or learning a new musical instrument," Goins said. "I, myself, picked up the ukulele."

Isabella Shamoun, 14, a freshman at South Broward, showcased the things that have brought up her spirits during the pandemic. She found comfort in drawing flowers, which reminded her to "stop and smell the roses." She liked playing with her pet bearded dragon Zuko, named after a character in "Avatar: The Last Airbender." And she often went outside to admire the orchids she grew in her garden.

"Although this school year has been bizarre and trying, the flowers in my garden are gorgeous and I can always go outside and take a breather," Isabella wrote in her submission.

Goins, the Monroe County school counselor, said of Isabella's images: "As someone who is, personally and professionally, always looking at the glass half full, … these are fantastic. It's a perfect depiction of lemonade out of lemons."

Students Share Stories Of Isolation And Inspiration, Moments Of Humor And Coping Mechanisms

Wooseley Nestor, 14, a freshman at South Broward, submitted a funny video showing him falling asleep listening to a lecture, when his mother comes to his bedroom door to tell him to stay awake. Wooseley plays both characters in the scene, donning a wig and a pink bathrobe when he's playing his mom.

Joining WLRN during the live field trip, Wooseley said his tendency to doze off during class is a mix of sleepiness and boredom.

"Once I see myself start to fall asleep, I move, sit at the table, so I can have a correct posture so that I can stay awake better," he said.

Students also shared realizations that they had about themselves and their lives during the quiet time at home.

Ethan Lacouty learned that he loved writing. The 16-year-old junior wrote an essay telling his future self what going to school during the pandemic was like. Here's an excerpt:

"I can still hear it. The vibrant hallways filled with excited kids. The spirited crowds at homecoming games. The marching band playing our fight song, echoing around the school. Now it seems like a long-winded dream of longing, as the memories fade like a pair of light blue jeans."

Lacouty also wrote in his essay that he believes that facing the many challenges of COVID-19 made him a better person than he was before.

"Going to school throughout a pandemic has grown my character, my attitude, and my perspective on the world for the better," he wrote.

Lacouty explained further during WLRN's virtual field trip: "I had a bunch of time to myself, more time than I've ever had in my life, to just think about what I was doing and where I was going. It gave me a certain time to think and meditate about how I approach high school and how to approach the next step in my life."

Not being able to attend classes in person changed Maraisa Carrión's mind about school altogether. She's 17 and a junior at South Broward.

"This is a story to tell to our kids and our grandkids, to tell them: 'Hey, appreciate school,'" Carrión said in a video she submitted in response to WLRN's prompt. "Because I feel like I've never appreciated school more than I do now."

For Deion Stallworth, a freshman at iPrep Academy in Miami-Dade County, playing video games and watching anime helped him pass all the time at home.

He tweeted a series of memes with clips from anime shows and "SpongeBob SquarePants" to depict how bored and distracted he felt during the pandemic.

One of the brightest moments of a difficult year for Melissa Atkins' science students at Tradewinds Middle School in Palm Beach County was when the teacher drove by students' homes to drop off supplies for growing pepper plants. It was part of an experiment to see whether certain vegetables could grow in space so astronauts could have fresh produce. The activity was in partnership with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, with a grant from NASA.

While students enjoyed the project, it was the few minutes of masked, socially-distanced interactions with Atkins that they really cherished.

"The science experiment became secondary," Atkins said during the virtual field trip. "Having that time with them — it meant as much to me, or more to me, than to some of them, actually."

Jonathan Charles-Julien, 15, an eighth grader at Tradewinds, was the only student attending school in person when the class planted bok choy and later harvested it.

"He got to taste it and explain everything to the students at home," Atkins said.

Jonathan didn't want to comment on how the bok choy tasted. Laughing, he said, "Oh no! How am I supposed to phrase this?"

He settled on sharing that he's not a big fan of vegetables in general.

"I'm more of a fruit person," he said.

Watch the full field trip here. WLRN will share some of the other responses on our social media pages soon, and it's not too late to participate!

Middle and high school students in South Florida: What would you tell your future self about going to school during this pandemic? Post your responses on Instagram, TikTok or Twitter with #ClassOfCOVID and tag us @WLRN. Or email your submissions to classofcovid@wlrnnews.org.