March 2021

Climbing Mountains

My School Year Ups and Downs

By Grace Timan, 11th grade

Priorities have changed, that’s something I learned in my Values in World Thought class this year. Yes, I do miss the way the world once was, and I pine for the classic high school experience. What I now want most, however, is the health of those in my community.

Gazing at the faces of my peers displayed on their pixelated webcams, I reminisced on 2020 and years past. Dial back to September, a new school year and what was supposed to be a fresh start, that instead put us right back where we were six months ago – but this time with the workload of junior year.
As I found myself staring at a screen in my bedroom instead of going on my school’s annual river rafting trip, cancelled due to COVID, the sinking feeling was unignorable. I remembered the words of the upperclassmen that came before me, telling me to cherish every moment because it would be gone before I knew it. They were right. It’s all passed so quickly, and now it felt ripped away before I got to hold on. None of us expected to be online for another year, until we were legitimately and virtually climbing mountains, instead of driving up the one we loved so much to our campus.

Onlline School
During the first two weeks of online school, our teachers encouraged us more than they ever had. I definitely felt that they missed us, almost more than we missed each other. The endless assignments that quickly flooded our inboxes felt hopeless. I personally struggled to find motivation without a physical environment to encourage me. As a student with ADHD, being in an environment that fosters learning is incredibly important for my academic success. My bed, after waking up just five minutes before class, chugging an energy drink and frantically hoping I won’t have to turn on my camera, is not exactly a prime learning environment. Without routine and structure, it was easy to get lost in the vast void of Google Docs. The personal connection and relationships our teachers have made with us is what got me through. They took class time to ask us questions about how we were doing, gave us extensions on assignments when needed, and understood when we didn’t feel up to turning on our cameras.

Finally In-person
Two weeks into the school year things changed for the better and we were able to return to in-person school! Another positive milestone? I got my driver’s license the day before we came back to school, and driving up to school on the first day of in-person classes was the happiest I have been in ages. Pulling into that student parking lot, we could see each other’s smiles through our masks! So much had changed, but I was just happy that we were all back together. It definitely is different because we aren’t seeing each grade in the same way that we have before. We are now more distant from one another, unable to walk through the different classrooms in order to keep our cohorts safe.

One of the most memorable parts of Mount Madonna School is knowing everyone around me. As I walked through the halls growing up (I started at Mount Madonna in preschool), I knew everyone around me, and that safety and excitement of seeing a friendly face always felt good. I can’t imagine not knowing the people around me, so not seeing them was a huge adjustment. Along with that, the teachers moving from outdoor classroom to outdoor classroom is actually something I enjoy. It feels relaxing in a way, getting that break from all the hurried walking between classes. Seeing my classmates in person has improved my mental health; being able to socialize takes my mind away from the craziness of the world. It is definitely an improved learning environment.

Adjusting to change & Mother Nature
No matter how grateful we were to return to in-person learning in the fall, there is always something unpredictable, more specifically the weather. Some of us were innovative with blankets and hand warmers but still, it felt impossible not to complain when we felt so cold. On the days it wasn’t cold it was impossibly hot. Without air conditioning and insulation, we sat in the sun for hours sweating through our masks, waiting until we could drive down the mountain with the AC blasting. Not only was the weather unpredictable as to how we would feel, it all presented challenges for our school leaders. With so many terrible wildfires over the fall and many days with bad smoky air quality, we never knew if it might be too crazy of conditions to go to school. It was never the administration’s fault, it was always Mother Nature getting in the way. It created an environment that felt unpredictable. It was easy to take our time together for granted, forgetting that it might suddenly be taken away. We were so focused on the weather, we forgot to worry about the virus, until we received a harsh reminder.

A Return to Online
In mid-November we drove up to campus one day, expecting our normal school-day routine, and were promptly informed to return home. School was shut down. One single positive case before Thanksgiving break. Our county was moving back into the purple zone, and we thought we would be safe from the restrictions until the asymptomatic, positive case happened. We didn’t know who had tested positive, who was exposed, and we definitely didn’t know when, or if, we were going back. This felt like I was being pushed off a cliff. In losing my routine and my learning environment, my motivation deserted me as well. I didn’t feel like participating in class, doing my assignments before the last minute, or continuing any of the drives I had built into year. I found myself waking up just minutes before class started with not nearly enough energy to be the perky person I once knew. I lost myself once again in an online school. I have always known myself as a person who stayed motivated and pushed for her goals, but I lost that part of myself for a while. I couldn’t build up the motivation to do my work or even care if I did it right.

I talked to my peers about how I was feeling and many felt the same. As I lay in bed on another late-night Facetime conversation on Facetime, we talked about how much we missed normalcy. If you had told me freshman year that this was the world I lived in now, I would never have believed you. There are some things in life you can never imagine being taken away until they are pulled from underneath your feet. Once again images of what my junior year would have been like crept into my mind. Unable to do the things that I looked forward to most, hope felt like a lost cause. I missed the feeling of screaming so loud at a volleyball game that I lost my voice right before song auditions for the school play. I missed the feeling of seeing friendly faces down the halls. I missed dancing pressed up against my friends at a school dance. Normalcy felt a hundred years, a lifetime, away.

Priorities have changed, that’s something I learned in my Values in World Thought class this year. Yes, I do miss the way the world once was, and I pine for the classic high school experience. What I now want most, however, is the health of those in my community. We returned to in-person learning in mid-December. This time nothing can be taken for granted; I have learned that life changes too quickly, and to hold on and be grateful.

 Grace Timan is a junior at Mount Madonna School in Santa Cruz.

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