When the lockdown started in March of 2020, there was a lot of uncertainty in the air. That uncertainty was very difficult for me to deal with because I like to plan and think ahead. During that time, I often thought of that expression “the light at the end of the tunnel.” The lockdown felt like a long dark tunnel — only I couldn’t see the light at the end of it and I didn’t even know if it was ever going to end.
Suddenly school was shut down and we were at home all the time. Initially it was supposed to be 2 weeks but then 2 weeks turned into 4 weeks, which turned into 4 months! All that time, we were getting assignments, but had no classes. At first, teachers just gave us assignments that were a review of what we’d already done in class before everything shut down. But as the shutdown dragged on teachers started to assign us homework that included new material — that’s when things started to get stressful and confusing.
It was never really clear what would or would not count toward our final grades and that school year (grade 10) is the most critical year when it comes to CEGEP applications. CEGEPs accept or reject you largely based on your grade 10 final results. It was a lot of pressure. Our workload was getting heavier but we were not in class, not learning directly from teachers. It just felt like I suddenly had twice as much homework to do by myself.
For me, all of these challenges were amplified by the fact that I have dyslexia, a learning disability that affects my reading and writing skills. It takes me much longer to do reading and writing assignments. I need audio books to help me read and whenever I write anything (including this article!) I need help rewriting and rewriting until I get it right. At school, I have the right to extra time for assignments and that normally helps me get all my work done. But everything got even harder during the shutdown. I suddenly was not in class with teachers explaining things, instead I had to read and process all the new information alone at home. For me that takes a lot more energy and it was exhausting.
Since being diagnosed with dyslexia in grade 4, I have worked hard to develop many coping strategies for school. Unfortunately, a lot of those strategies were rendered useless due to COVID-19. One of those strategies includes talking to my teachers before or after class when I had a problem understanding something. During the first wave of COVID-19, I was suddenly forced to write emails to teachers if I had a question. I don’t like sending emails to teachers because I have difficulty expressing myself in writing and each email would take so much time to write (and rewrite) that it was like doing an extra homework assignment when I was already overloaded.
Another strategy that I could no longer use was prioritization. Before the pandemic I knew which assignments, tests, projects, quizzes, and stuff like that would require more effort and that’s where I’d put my focus. If a project was worth a big chunk of my grade that term whereas a quiz the same week wouldn’t count for much I would prioritize the project. I could not do this during the lockdown because it wasn’t clear how much any assignment, quiz or test was worth.
Another challenge for me was my workspace at home. Before the pandemic, I used to do homework at the kitchen table. It worked well for me because my sister worked upstairs and my parents didn’t get home until a few hours later, so it was generally pretty quiet and easy to concentrate. However, this was no longer the case when everyone was sent home. Suddenly, everyone was home all the time and since I was in the kitchen, if ever someone needed a snack or to make a meal distract me. Even if no one came into the kitchen, both my parents were working in the next room, so I could hear all their meetings all the time which also made it hard to concentrate.
By September of 2020, I was starting grade 11 and the Quebec government decided that we could start going back to school full time, but no one expected it to last. In fact, during the first few days of school my friends and I were all making our predictions for how soon school would close again. Especially since, at that time, we didn’t even have to wear masks in our homeroom classes.
Since it had been so difficult working at the kitchen table, I got a new desk and set it up in my bedroom. That fixed one problem but created a new one. Although I was no longer being distracted by other family members, I was getting distracted by new things. I would look around my room and start to zone out, thinking about the things that needed reorganizing. I was also simply not used to doing work in my room. It was difficult to get into work mode because I was used to chilling out and sleeping in my room.
As we predicted, full-time in person school didn’t last long. Before we knew it, the government decided to switch to a hybrid system. This meant that I was at school in person one day and at home doing online learning the next. During online learning days, students would log on to their teachers’ respective Google meets. So basically, it was like a regular school, with our regular schedule of classes but instead of going physically to each class, we logged on to a virtual one.
I lost a lot of sleep because of the hybrid system. On in person days, I woke up at 6am to get ready and get to school but on online days, I woke up at 7am. Everyday I had a different routine in the morning and at night. I had to go to sleep at a different time to get the full amount needed but I was so confused that I never got to sleep at the right time.
Unfortunately, learning online had a negative effect on my motivation. It was already really difficult to focus but it was also easier to get away with not focusing. For example, if homework was due on an online day I wouldn’t get caught if I didn’t have it done. It became too easy to procrastinate.
On top of all this, I was taking physics for the first time and struggling with it despite having high marks in other science classes. I was having so much trouble in class. I failed a test and I don’t fail tests! That class was extremely difficult for me but luckily I was able to find a good tutor who worked with me every week.
I was very worried about my physics marks because I wanted to apply for Pure and Applied science in CEGEP, which is a very difficult program to get into. Fortunately our physics teacher gave our class the opportunity to do an extra credit project to increase our grades. It was a competition. The challenge was to build a catapult that could launch a whippet cookie without using elastics or metal springs (but binder clips were allowed) The goal was to build the lightest possible catapult that could still shoot the whippet as far as possible. I decided to go for it.
The range and weight of each catapult would be used to calculate a ratio (range divided by weight) The catapult with the highest ratio would be the “winner.” I was not optimistic about my project. I used popsicle sticks, some cardboard, a little yarn, a small plastic soy sauce container and a binder clip. Everyone else’s projects looked so advanced and they used cool techniques. I am considering becoming an engineer but looking at those other projects had me asking myself “how could someone who wants to be an engineer build such a simple project using the most basic techniques and materials???”. But, to my surprise, I won! My range was around the same as everyone else’s but because of the materials I used, my catapult weighed very little! I am so so so so so so so so so so so happy!!!!!
In the end, I did well in physics, I got into a pure and applied science program in CEGEP and at my high school graduation I was presented an award for perseverance!!!
I am so proud of myself for that award! I smile just thinking about it. I really have persevered at school through this pandemic. It has been really tough but I made it to CEGEP and I did learn a lot. The biggest lesson to me is that I can do more than I realize.