Like students all across the country, the class of 2020 at Cliffside Park High School in Bergen County, N.J., faced an unprecedented end to the school year. Seniors quarantined at home, while their final year of high school and all the milestones that come with it became collateral damage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Just 10 miles from the early epicenter in New York City, Cliffside Park High School transitioned into remote learning by mid-March, and the virus quickly started hitting home for many students, as the county would eventually see up to 21,570 coronavirus cases (and counting).
“Nobody’s ever gone through this,” said 17-year-old Carlos Moreno, “It’s an understatement to say it was something new.”
High School English teacher Shawn Adler listened, over virtual learning sessions, as students in his senior class shared their fears and anxieties.
“We were having daily conversations about the effects of COVID, and were talking a lot about lost things,” Adler tells Yahoo Life. “What does it mean to lose your senior year? And then, 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?”
Wanting to find a way for their unique experiences to be heard, Adler tasked his students with writing and self-publishing a book, calling it The Class of Covid-19: Insights from the Inside, consisting entirely of personal stories and essays about their pandemic experiences
“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.”
Arianna Khelil, 18, wrote about her family’s experience with her father undergoing emergency heart surgery in the height of the pandemic.
“We were in and out of the hospital in Mount Sinai [in New York City], it was during the peak of the virus,” Khelil tells Yahoo Life. “We were all scared. Is he going to get the virus? Is he going to be exposed to the virus because of the other patients around him?”
Khelil says that after the book was published, she received a flood of support from readers and peers. “It was really nice knowing that I wasn’t alone in this,” she says.
Adler was blown away by his students’ abilities to express themselves in such a challenging time, and one that would make such a huge impact on their lives. “I told them I want [people] to be able to read your stories and know what it’s like to be 18, to be 19, at this incredibly strange time,” Adler explains.
News of the book was shared by many public figures, including Sen. Cory Booker and Congressman Josh Gottheimer, who praised the class of 2020’s resilience.
Inspired by these New Jersey students and their incredible teacher Mr. Adler for their resilience during these challenging times. I encourage people to read their profound stories: https://t.co/4Rqzi8TQM7
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) July 31, 2020
With one unprecedented school year in the books, students like Moreno and Khelil are looking ahead to their first year of college — but not without liberal use of the phrase “as of right now.”
“I’ll be attending Wagner College in Staten Island. I was supposed to be playing football there, if the season is canceled I’ll just be doing more online learning,” Moreno tells Yahoo Life. “Everyday plans are changing, but now we’re used to it because it’s been like this for months.”
On July 29th, the Northeast Conference in which Wagner football is a part of announced that a vote would postpone fall sports competition and championships.
“I’m going to Marist College, and as of right now they say we’re going for in-person learning, so I am dorming,” Khelil 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.”
Although Khelil is looking forward to heading into her freshman year in person, she can’t say the same for many friends. Fellow students attending colleges like Temple University in Philadelphia, and the New School in New York City, will be taking classes online and are disappointed to be missing out on their long-awaited college experience.
“We’re going to make the most of it, we have no other choice,” Moreno says.
As school reopening plans across New Jersey continue to be subject to change, Adler tells Yahoo Life that everyone still needs to take it day by day.
“COVID cases are rising, we are not out of the woods yet,” he says. “It’s a little like saying, ‘how do you feel about walking through the tunnel?’ when you're only halfway through the tunnel. I don't think we've seen the light yet.”
While the future is still very much unknown, these students seem to have mastered rolling with the punches that 2020 continues to bring. “One of the big lessons of the book is, life is not what happens to you, it’s how you deal with what happens to you.” Adler says.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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