The students from Cliffside Park High School in New Jersey, just 10 miles from the early epi-center of New York City, experienced an unprecedented senior year, many students affected by the coronavirus early on. Wanting to find a way for their unique experiences to be heard, High School English teacher Shawn Adler tasked his students with writing and publishing a book called ‘The Class of Covid-19: Insights from the Inside’, consisting entirely of personal stories and essays about their pandemic experiences. The book is not available for purchase on Amazon. “We have stories about prom, we have stories about addiction, we have stories about death, about students catching COVID,” Adler shares, “Stories about students who have experienced mental illness, students who have gone through not simply anxiety and panic attacks, but a real depression as well, and are vulnerable and are sharing that story.” After experiencing the loss of senior year, now the students face the unknowns of their freshman year of college. “I’m going to Marist College, and as of right now they say we’re going for in-person learning, so I am dorming,” a student explains. “We have to wear masks to class, the class sizes are going to be cut in half, and we can’t have [outside visitors] come to our dorms.” Another student says, "We’re going to make the most of it, we have no other choice." While fearful of the future, Adler reminds his students, Llife is not what happens to you, it’s how you deal with what happens to you."
ARIANNA KHELIL: As time passed by, I began really missing school. And I started realizing, like, wow, we're not going to go back to school. That's it for my senior year.
CARLOS MORENO: Nobody's ever gone through this. It's an understatement to say it was something new. It's gone-- nothing we can do about it now.
SHAWN ADLER: My name is Shawn Adler. I'm a high school English teacher in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. We were very early in the epi-center of the COVID plague. We went on remote learning on-- I believe the date was March 13.
We talked a lot about lost things. What does it mean to lose your senior year? As people started to get sick, and as people started dying, what does it mean to lose people? What does it mean to lose those that we love? And how do we deal with that?
So in the back of my mind, always was this idea, how could they let their voices be heard in a way that wasn't simply writing in a diary or writing for their teacher? The idea was, I want you to write your stories. I want them to be able to read your stories and know what it's like to be 18, to be 17 at this incredibly strange time. Each of these students are the only ones who could have written that story.
ARIANNA KHELIL: I was really excited because it was a way to get my feelings out. So I did write up a little bit about my dad. He has heart problems. So we were in and out of the hospital in Mount Sinai. It was during the peak of the virus.
We were all scared because we weren't even allowed to be in there with him. He had to get heart surgery all alone. You know, is he going to get the virus? Is he going to be exposed to the virus because of the other patients around him?
CARLOS MORENO: It gave us all a sense of what everybody else was going through. Nobody's going through the same exact thing. Everybody's story is going to be different.
ARIANNA KHELIL: People were texting me asking, you know, how my dad's doing. So it was really nice knowing that my peers cared for me and that I wasn't alone in this.
SHAWN ADLER: Hopefully, they learned that when we speak these vulnerabilities, and we speak these truths, and when we speak these anxieties, we are not alone.
CARLOS MORENO: It was just-- it was quite the experience.
ARIANNA KHELIL: I am going to Marist College. As of right now they said we are going for in-person learning. So I am dorming.
We have to wear masks to class. The class sizes are going to be cut in half. We can't have other people come into our dorms. We have to sign papers saying, you know, that we will follow the guidelines and everything. But I still feel like there will be kids that will not follow all the rules as they should be.
CARLOS MORENO: Next year I'm going to be attending Wagner College in Staten Island. I'm supposed to be playing football there. So we were supposed to move in next Wednesday. And that got pushed back.
Every day plans are changing. If the season's canceled I'm just going to be doing more on my learning from home. But if not, going to have to go to a socially distant school. We just have to. We have no other choice.
SHAWN ADLER: COVID cases are rising. We are not out of the woods yet. I don't know if I'm doing a remote learning. I don't know if I'm teaching in person. I don't know if it's a hybrid of those two things.
Certainly we have been told plans. But those plans change every day. I think one of the big lessons of the book is that life is not what happens to you. Life is about how you deal with what happens to you.
CARLOS MORENO: Nobody saw this coming. Nobody knew it was going to blow up into this. It's difficult. But it's what we have to do.
ARIANNA KHELIL: It's going to be very, very different. But I'm going to make the best out of it.