Abida Diasso, a senior at United Township High School likes her morning schedule. She even enjoys working with her teachers whom she praises lavishly for their adjustment to the new way of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes much smaller classes meeting in person just two days a week plus another day of online learning.
Life in school is “definitely different,” Diasso said.
Still, she would go back to the old days as quickly as possible. That’s her perspective as she works her way through the first quarter of her COVID-19-affected senior year.
“Last year, I hated coming to school,” the senior student council president said. “I just hated being here. But now, with our circumstances, it’s like wow.
“We took school for granted. I really took (for granted) those past times where I could freely sit with who I wanted to sit with, go to lunch, do all these things, and interact with people. Now it’s just like wow, if I could go back to that, I would come to school every day, I would do anything to go back to going to school normally, eight hours a day, waking up early, yeah. I miss that.”
This year includes not only much smaller classes, well spaced out in the same room, but walking the halls about 6 feet apart with arrows on the floor, sanitizing a desk after class, and no locker to store books in or gather and talk with friends.
Not having access to a locker is among the most difficult aspects for Diasso. “It’s kind of hard. For my book bag, I have to remember to bring the right materials for the right days, and that I am not missing anything.”
Reid Murphy, a senior who like Diasso is on the Link Crew, which helps freshmen find their way, says he feels like a college student, starting school at 12:44 p.m. four days a week.
“So it’s kind of nice to be on that schedule and get some things done beforehand,” he said of the new schedule which has him go to the first three periods of his six classes one day, and periods 4-5-6 the next day. Wednesday is online or a remote day for all students and staff. Then it’s back to three classes a day Thursday and Friday.
It’s definitely a different world for Diasso and Murphy.
The lack of going to a locker makes the day go by quicker for him, Murphy said. He just goes from one class to another. But class size is almost shocking.
“It’s very different,” he said. “I am used to having a full class…20-25 people. My first period is four people.”
“It is different,” Diasso agreed.”My biggest class used to have like 50 people. Going from 50 to maybe even 10 in a class, is like a huge difference because less socializing, less kids are talking. You kind of feel alone in the class.”
Murphy admits to some misgivings of having a senior year without a football season in the fall, even if he’s a baseball player. “It’s our generation (that’s affected), and the people that are a few years older than us because they are the ones that want to hang out with each other,” Murphy said. “It does not help that this is our senior year and this is the last year we get because of how messed up it is because of COVID.”
Both students miss Friday night football games and everything that came with them.
“It definitely isn’t good because it’s the senior year for me and (Diasso) and we are trying to make sure that we live the best out of it and have the most fun because this is our last year here and then we got to actually think about what we are doing,” Murphy said.
Diasso essentially agrees.
“It sucks,” she said. “It’s our senior year. We can just make the best out of each moment we get.”
She finds not having the Friday night football games this fall among the bigger challenges, even though UT is not a perennial winner in football and there is expected to be a season in the spring.
“Going to games and socializing and just being there,” she explained was fun. “Friday nights we live to go see the football games and do the themes and stuff like that. Now, we can’t do that anymore.”
Their typical days begin about 10 minutes before class with having their temperature taken and answering COVID-symptom-related questions while being spaced apart from other classmates in the school.
“If you are good, you just go to class,” Diasso said of her days that officially begin at 8 a.m. Hand sanitizer is used in and out of class. “You just stay spread out in classes.”
All the precautions don’t really get on her nerves because as she says, “I will do anything right now just to make sure I can still come to school every day just because I am a better learner that way. And I need to be in contact with my teachers.”
Murphy also is happy to be in school.
“Some kids prefer online; some kids prefer staying in here,” he said. “But I am OK with coming in (four times) a week because at least I get to see my teachers and not just go home online.”
Online learning does have some challenges, he’s found.
“They explain it the best they can,” Murphy said of the teachers. “Sometimes I don’t get it, but if you just make sure you read the directions thoroughly, go back and try it a few times, you will get it.”
Diasso has found that teachers are very good at getting back to her with answers to her questions.
There are some advantages to the new schedule, including working it around jobs, homework and time to hang out with friends. Murphy works at Dunsworth Trucking & Excavating in Carbon Cliff while Diasso works at UnityPoint Health Trinity in Rock Island. Both play a sport, which has not started yet, Murphy in baseball and Diasso in basketball.
Diasso currently likes that she has the rest of the day after about 10:30 a.m. to do homework, ask teachers questions or go to her job.
It’s all way better than last spring when students never returned after the third quarter break and eventually went to remote learning.
“It was really, really hard because teachers had to like contact us, get us our work,” Diasso said. “We had to online learn, and it was like a very different environment.”
It’s way better this time around.
“I can say it definitely has improved from the last time we were in school,” Diasso said. “I feel like our administration did a really good job of thinking through and putting different things in place to help better the students and the teachers.”
Neither student grabs a lunch at school, though Diasso laments time in the cafeteria with friends as something she misses.
“You have to make sure you eat before you come to school,” Murphy said regarding his afternoon schedule.
All in all, it’s a much different school year in the era of COVID-19.
“Right now, I will do anything just to make sure I can come to school,” Diasso said.
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