“Out of a Crisis: The Voices of Our Students” is a new series, launched by the Globe’s Great Divide team, that publishes essays, poems, artwork, and videos featuring teenage perspectives on learning and living amid a pandemic. The stories are published in the Great Divide newsletter.
About the author: Mariella Murillo, 17, is a senior at Boston Arts Academy.
I live with five other Boston Public School students: two young girls under the age of 10, a 12-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 15-year-old. I’m 17. I’ve always been extremely self-sufficient. I’m studious, hardworking, and focused. No one ever feels the need to check up on me, because even though I am far from perfect, I almost always do what I’m supposed to.
I’ve always prided myself on my grades, despite whatever personal obstacles I’ve faced.
Now, in my “virtual” senior year, I’m floundering. I wake up and I feel like I’m drowning in e-mails and Google Classroom notifications. My classrooms were once vibrant and alive. Now, all I see are black boxes, profile pictures, and names. Sometimes, I don’t know if there are other people on the other side. The days of open discussion and comfortably sharing are gone because it’s almost embarrassing to be present when it feels like no one else is. I feel guilty about this, but most days are so exhausting that the fatigue drowns out the guilt.
I have been working on college applications since May, both in an attempt to be ahead on my application process and have something to use as context for my escapist fantasies.
About 90 percent of the college process so far has been done completely on my own. I don’t like relying on my counselor, adviser, or family for much. I take pride in being self-reliant. The biggest factor now, however, is this: There’s no such thing as dropping into someone’s office or classroom for a quick check-in anymore. I have to schedule meetings; I have to send formal e-mails; and I am just one of hundreds of meetings and e-mails that teachers have to deal with.
Life right now is hard. Six kids in one apartment is hard. Waking up every day to stare at a screen is hard. My classmates aren’t sitting in the same room, and we don’t have the same resources. To know that there is no perfect system when it comes to remote learning is disheartening.
All of my family that I live with tested positive for COVID-19 in December. I was terrified. What if I got sick? What if my mother got sick? The weight of our reality began to crush me — and it did, for a while. We got lucky, every one of us was free of symptoms after two weeks. But every day since, I remind myself that is not the case for everyone. Not everyone survives COVID-19, and not everyone is able to learn — at all — in remote learning.
Yet it’s what needs to be done. Though I’ve struggled with remote learning, it is still the right option — and frankly the only option — that we have right now. It just isn’t safe enough yet to return to school buildings.
I understand not just the inconvenience of remote learning, but the genuine struggle of it. I understand that many students have disabilities that make it impossible for them to work in a remote setting. High needs students should be able to attend school in person, but only when it is absolutely safe for them to be there. There should be nothing but the most consistent care in providing PPE, in keeping the schools cleaned and the students distanced, and in making sure teachers and facilities are taken care of and listened to.
We are all trying to figure out the right thing to do, and so open communication between Boston public schools teachers, students, and families is essential. It’s vital that the school district provide information about resources of all kinds for families in each of their weekly updates. This is, above all else, a time to remember the people, not the institutions.