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The pandemic: Reflections of a year gone by
The Jefferson community shares the standout moments and the biggest changes over these challenging past 12 months
March 12, 2021
3:55 p.m. March 12, 2020.
Jefferson principal Dr. Ann Bonitatibus holds her cell phone in one hand as she speaks with the assistant superintendent for Region 2 of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), Dr. Fabio Zuluaga.
In her other hand, Bonitatibus holds the microphone connected to the school’s PA system as she relays what Zuluaga just told her: FCPS will be open on Friday, March 13.
The statement didn’t hold true for long.
A few hours later, during the intermission of the first performance of Jefferson’s spring musical, Newsies, a notification from FCPS announced that all schools would now be closed on Friday, March 13, and all activity must cease immediately.
While the show was allowed to finish, the Jefferson building would then remain closed to students for nearly a year. For members of the Jefferson community, March 12 and the days afterward represented the beginning of a year-long period like no other. To reflect on the one-year anniversary of this day, tjTODAY spoke with Jefferson students and teachers to find out the moment they realized COVID-19 would significantly change their life.
Photos courtesy of Lauren Fisher, Zach Shah, Shruthi Rajesh, and Joshua Golden
Through the Students’ eyes
In a year like no other, students found ways to adapt and gained valuable life lessons. Four Jefferson students share with tjTODAY their biggest changes and realizations over this past year of quarantine.
Photo courtesy of Joshua Golden
Innovation amidst adversity
Junior Joshua Golden uses his inventiveness to create a more bearable quarantine experience.
Hunched over, junior Joshua Golden neatly writes solutions to a set of math problems. Using a lined piece of paper, he meticulously prints out each addition sign and variable, taking special care to make it legible.
In front of Golden, a laptop plays the motions of his pencil in real-time. Without delay, as Golden brandishes his work across his page, every line and curve clearly appears on the screen. The source: Golden’s phone, fixed on a self-designed wooden stand called a Camera Cradle. Its camera dangles over a small centerpiece, transmitting a clear video of Golden’s work to his laptop. I have a lot of internal motivations to be making memories while I have all these opportunities, while I don’t have to worry about paying for my own food or my own rent.” — Junior Joshua Golden“
I have a lot of internal motivations to be making memories while I have all these opportunities, while I don’t have to worry about paying for my own food or my own rent.”
— Junior Joshua Golden
The Camera Cradle arose from Golden’s desire to create a smoother virtual tutoring experience.
“The problem is that foundational math is so difficult to teach over anything but paper with these kids who are in elementary school or middle school,” Golden said. “That led us to the idea of a stand that turns your phone into a document camera.”
After developing initial prototypes out of wire coat hangers, Golden used CAD software and a local hardware store to manufacture a final wooden product.
“I can always see my student’s paper, and they can always see mine. As they’re writing, I can [tell them to] watch out for a specific sign mistake and then they can erase it and keep going,” Golden said. “It allows tutoring efficiency online to get near or replicate that of in person.”
The innovation that Golden applied to the Camera Cradle extends to social interactions.
As an “extremely social” person, he has been forced to plan creative ways to still hang out with friends during the pandemic. These include hiking and having backyard campfires.
“I found it very difficult to maintain meaningful relationships solely over text and video call. Even though I can’t hang out with people in the most convenient ways, I really need to maintain these relationships by just seeing them in person every once in a while,” Golden said.
For Golden, meeting with friends doesn’t just stem from a desire for social interaction, but also from the goal of making memories.
“I have a lot of internal motivations to be making memories while I have all these opportunities, while I don’t have to worry about paying for my own food or my own rent,” Golden said. “Even if I can’t be making memories on a wrestling team or in the marching band, I can still make memories by meeting friends outside.”
Photo courtesy of Thomas Jefferson Theatre Arts
Making up for lost time
Senior Shruthi Rajesh finds ways to work more effectively and do the things she enjoys over quarantine.
Senior Shruthi Rajesh may have been one of the last people to set foot in Jefferson’s halls before schools were closed for nearly a year. As a part of Jefferson’s production of Newsies, she stood on stage to take a bow as the curtains were drawn on both the musical and the rest of the school year.
She watched as months of work spent building sets and rehearsing lines went down the drain, resulting in a single performance of the show as its opening night soon became its closing night as well.
Rajesh looks back at the moment she found out the news of FCPS ceasing all after school activities, recalling the sadness she and the rest of the cast felt.
I’ve found more value in creating systems for my life. By having things that are repetitive and habits, even on days where I really don’t want to do anything, I can push myself to do what I need to do.”
— Senior Shruthi Rajesh
“We got word halfway through that we weren’t going to be able to do the weekend shows so we were all expecting Friday to be closing night and then 10 p.m. Thursday we found out that got cancelled too. A year later I’m not mad about that anymore but I am a little sad that a lot of our work went to waste,” Rajesh said.
However, instead of mourning over lost time and effort, Rajesh looked at the coming months of quarantine as an opportunity to make up for that time. With the large amount of time she had gained with schools closing, Rajesh began to go back into old, forgotten hobbies she had pushed away, as well as the long to do list of things she had never gotten around to.
“I’ve had more time for creative writing. As one of my biggest hobbies, I’ve kind of let it fall to the wayside through high school so being able to properly write things again has been a lot of fun that I’ve missed,” Rajesh said. “ I also tried out painting, oil pastel, sewing and cooking. Nothing has become a permanent long term hobby but it’s been fun to try out a bunch of things.”
That time also allowed her to try to understand herself and how she works best. One of the most difficult aspects of in-person schools closing for many students is the loss of structure and separation between school and home, so Rajesh began to change her lifestyle to recreate that.
“I think what I’ve learned is how I learn and the importance of separating your space and giving myself a break. With less structure at home, I’ve had to learn how to make one myself. I’ve tried to be stricter with myself, “ Rajesh said.
She refuses to let calls of procrastination and fatigue force her out of this structure she has created for herself.
“I got my desktop mounted to the wall over my desk so now it’s literally impossible for me to do my work on my bed,” Rajesh said.
These efforts make Rajesh a better worker, and allow her to find what methods of organization and scheduling suit her best.
“I’ve found more value in creating systems for my life. By having things that are repetitive and habits, even on days where I really don’t want to do anything, I can push myself to do what I need to do,” Rajesh said.
Perspective on priorities
Quarantine provides sophomore Lauren Fisher with the realization that she had been overloading herself with extracurriculars and academics.
Gymnastics. Latin Club. Softball. Future Problem Solving Club. Not to mention, being a full-time student at Jefferson.
For Jefferson sophomore Lauren Fisher, her days before quarantine started were filled with numerous academic and extracurricular activities. But the closing of schools in mid-March interrupted Fisher’s busy schedule, allowing her to reflect on her priorities as a student.
When lockdown first started, Fisher found herself FaceTiming her friends for hours into the night. These daily sessions helped disrupt the daily boredom of quarantine. I don’t think I realized that I was unhappy because I was doing all this stuff. I wasn’t enjoying interactions with people, or enjoying life.” — Sophomore Lauren Fisher“
I don’t think I realized that I was unhappy because I was doing all this stuff. I wasn’t enjoying interactions with people, or enjoying life.”
— Sophomore Lauren Fisher
“I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t talk to my friends. There was already so much monotony of the day that seeing any people was so important to not go insane,” Fisher said.
As March turned to April and the once seemingly long one-month break from school became a three-month venture into virtual learning, quarantine was an extended period of time that felt like a break. Fisher tried to not burden herself with the guilt of not being efficient and productive.
“I did sometimes freak out that I wasn’t being productive enough. But I think you need to go easy on yourself because you can’t really regret anything,” Fisher said. “There was a lot of stuff going on in the news, and there was so much uncertainty.”
Instead of feeling too concerned about her lack of productivity, the pandemic helped Fisher realize that it was okay to have more balance between academics and free time.
“I was really busy during freshman year, and I don’t think I realized that I was unhappy because I was doing all this stuff. I wasn’t enjoying interactions with people, or enjoying life” Fisher said. “So when I didn’t have to have those responsibilities, I realized that I was not myself when I had all [those responsibilities].”
Fisher’s mentality and the time away from school allowed her to focus her attention on developing other interests and skills.
“I’m a lot more confident and outgoing, in the way that I look at life. I know I found a better balance of activities in school and in life,” Fisher said. “I had time to explore things that I enjoyed, like baking and biking.”
On March 9, Fisher returned to the Jefferson building for the first time in nearly a year.
“It felt like nothing had changed. It’s weird to leave some place for that long and then find it exactly how it was,” Fisher said. “Being in the presence of someone else helps me understand things better, and it’s really nice to actually talk to your teachers [in person].”
Rife with regret
Junior Zach Shah looks back at quarantine regretful about the months he wasted.
As with most days at this point in quarantine, junior Zach Shah begins by grabbing his phone from beside his bed. Still groggy from sleep, he clicks onto the first social media app he sees, then scrolls through amusing memes and pictures from friends.
A monotony sets in, and soon, minutes turn into hours, and hours turn into days. Suddenly, with the school year approaching, Shah looks back in confusion. Engulfed in dread and regret, he wonders how months of empty hours—so ready to be used to improve himself—slipped away and went to waste.
“[I had a] huge amount of regret and self-hate of not doing all the things I wanted to do. I was just disappointed in myself,” Shah said.
When quarantine first began, Shah went in with high expectations for how he would improve himself academically and physically.
“We had a lot of extra time, so I basically started planning to do a bunch of stuff. I was going to start practicing [lacrosse] a lot more because sports had gotten cut off. I was also thinking about working out, studying a little bit more, and getting ready for the next academic year,” Shah said.
Initially, Shah was disciplined in working towards his goals. He practiced and worked out every day, while also learning new material on a regular basis. However, Shah says that by August, his schedule and motivations seemed to have disintegrated.
“When you’re having this long time period where there’s no definite end and the goal is very vague like ‘I just want to be better,’ then it’s easy to get lost,” Shah said. “You just fall off it and say, ‘Whatever, I still have a lot of time.’ But then, you never get back into it and it’s too late.”
Although he had a rigorous routine just a few months earlier, Shah began to spend entire days on electronics and social media. Meanwhile, his goals of self-improvement fell by the wayside. [I had a] huge amount of regret and self-hate of not doing all the things I wanted to do.” — Junior Zach Shah“
[I had a] huge amount of regret and self-hate of not doing all the things I wanted to do.”
— Junior Zach Shah
“I didn’t change a whole lot in quarantine, which I think is the most disappointing thing. I wanted a lot of change to happen, but I’ve only changed as much as school-learning changes you,” Shah said. “Quarantine in itself, I don’t know if that changed me a whole lot. I think it just tested me, and personally, I think I failed.”
Despite these regrets, Shah believes that as the school year has progressed, he has been able to reach more of his goals due to better time management skills.
“I have been doing a lot more academic extracurricular activities, and I’ve been happy with those results,” Shah said. “I took some competitive Latin tests. I know one of [my results] and I did really well. I’m very happy about that and I studied hard for that.”
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