The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) has spent the past few months discussing the return to in-person learning, and has encouraged districts across the nation to seek out testimonials from parents, teachers, school officials, and community members sharing their positive experiences – in both virtual and in-person environments. The following is one such “back-to-school success story” from Henderson County Public Schools.
Destiny Simotics, 9th grade student
East Henderson High School
As of today, my county is partaking in hybrid learning. This is a combination of in-person and remote education. Unlike many school districts across the country, my district never really had a smooth transition into remote learning during the early stages of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. But, as of today in the fall of 2020, we have established a productive and positive remote learning experience.
Though my county’s learning experience is efficient, I, like many students, have had a difficult time adjusting to this new and unfamiliar pathway in my education. The most difficult part for me is keeping my mental health afloat. Beginning from the arrival of COVID-19, I have had some personal battles I have had to overcome.
Even at a young age, I have always been able to thrive by being intentional about having a daily amount of social interaction. It has been very hard to lose this part of my daily life. This has been so difficult for me, that at some points during the quarantine phase, I began to watch my mental health deteriorate rapidly. Another conflict I have faced, is one that I think many people across the world have also fought.
In my life, I have had to undergo a great quantity of traumatic events. To get through these strenuous times in my life, I turned to things that I am passionate about to fight the notion of giving up. Most of my passions lie outside of my household such as in my community or school. My brain has always liked to live in the past…especially the negative parts. My brain also likes to catastrophize things occurring around me. So, when I am unable to access the things that give me joy, it is very hard to resist my brain from reenacting past events. With this, my body battled to cope properly during the times my mental health plunged. But, once again I overcame.
Out of an attempt to secure my mental health, I began to turn to new and former hobbies. A hobby that I began to partake in, that I had already had the love for, was hiking. Picking back up with this hobby was a breakthrough for me. This gave me the chance to get out and do something that I love. Because I was outside, I also felt that I wasn’t as vulnerable to COVID-19, which was important to me and my family. I hiked intentionally on less popular trails out of my preference and for my own safety.
A less popular hobby than hiking that I began to take part in was writing poetry. I have always enjoyed when we were assigned poetry-writing in English, but I never did it outside of school. One day, though, I just began writing. I primarily write about feelings or thoughts I have had, which has served as a great coping skill for me. With writing, I feel that I can express things more vividly than I can discuss with an individual or group. Both hiking and writing have had a profound impact on the quality of my mental health as well as my own self-awareness. Though this pandemic and this new, unfamiliar form of education have sparked multiple battles for me, they have also sparked positive change. I would say the biggest positive for me is the candid moments that I usually don’t get if I were on campus, such as eating lunch or breakfast with my grandparents. I realize that I should treasure each moment, never knowing when I may lose someone I love.
Speaking for myself and other students, it is very easy to disengage during remote learning rather than participate in the way that is expected of us. To direct myself to continue to engage the way I need to learn, I rely on one specific thing: my future. This is a very cliché concept of motivation, but it is one that motivates me every day. Not only do I want to conquer my personal hurdles, I want to rise above them. I think about it this way: I mustn’t let obstacles and challenges (especially in my education) divert me from my dreams and goals.
When it comes to staying positive during troubling times, like those we are experiencing currently, I encourage others to take a few moments each day and think about something or someone that they are grateful for and/or to reflect on a positive from that day. Additionally, I encourage everyone to do at least one thing each day that gives them joy. As humans, it is typical for our brains to dwell on negativity rather than positivity. So, with these few things that I recommend, it can help our minds to alter the things it focuses on.
It is no secret that this pandemic has brought a wave of destruction across the globe. The destruction is unique from person to person and it is important to recognize that we are all experiencing some part of the ripple effect. In the last eight months, I have learned many things that cannot be found in our state standards for education. I have learned how to recognize when my mental health is worsening, I have had to learn how to take ownership of my education while at home, and so many things that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
If you’re an HCPS student, parent/guardian, or educator and want to share your positive 2020 story, please email Molly McGowan Gorsuch at email@example.com.