Youth Equity Podcast: Amplifying Youth Voice Season One Ep 2

Published June 19th, 2022

School in the Time of COVID

Another entry from the Youth Equity Project: Art of the Podcast Residency: Bronx High School for the Visual Arts (BHSVA) presents All the Bomb dot Com!

"One day you'll tell your grandchildren about this!" they all said. But what if we don't want to wait to talk about how our lives were during the first global pandemic in over a century?

BHSVA student Raghad Alaudi talks to teacher Joyce Mitchell about education in the times of Covid - their fears, their hopes, their struggles, and lessons they learned about themselves and each other.

This History UnErased podcast series is funded by the New York City Council and developed in partnership with Houses on the Moon Theater Company.


Raghad: Hi, my name is Raghad Aloudi. I'm a student at BHSVA. And today I'm going to be interviewing Ms. Lake.

Joyce Lake: Hi, my name is Joyce Lake. I'm a substitute teacher at BHSVA. I've been involved with them over about four and a half years doing outside work with them. It's a pleasure to be here with you today, Raghad.

Raghad: Thank you. So today we're going to be talking about our experiences with COVID and the pandemic in general. Can you start us off how you felt on the first day when you found out that schools were closing and we were going to be learning virtually and when a virus outbreak is happening in the world?

Joyce Lake: Hi. Yeah, that's a really good question. A lot of it was very visual as you were listening to the news and suddenly seeing things shut down sometime in March. I think it was like, "Oh, this is just a little virus. It's going to be over soon." And then as the weeks went on, it became a little more nerve-racking. And then when the school system decided that we couldn't go on anymore with our teaching, it really became
difficult, to say the least. How would we all put the pieces together?

Raghad: For me, when I first found out that there was a virus happening that's spreading around in people and it's very contagious, I was in disbelief. I didn't believe that something is actually happening. Because I know I've read it in storybooks. I've heard of it happening in history and stuff. So I never thought it would happen in a time where I was alive and that I'll be living, especially I was in my teenage years, I'm still in my teenage years. When school started closing, I was really happy because I was really burnt out. It was just my freshman year and I wanted the break. So I thought of it as a break. I remember coming to the school and getting the laptops that we were going to use online for almost a year and a half, getting them, I was super excited. I know a lot of teachers were posting work on Google Classroom as they were setting up for virtual learning. So I remember, the day that we picked up the laptop, me and my mom went to the supermarket and I had bought a coffee creamer that I really liked and I wanted to [inaudible]. And I would open the laptop and make myself a cup of coffee with that creamer. So every time I have that creamer, it just reminds me of the time where I'm sitting at home with my laptop. And I had a really bad addiction to getting the work done. So if I did not get the work done, I couldn't sleep. I would be on the laptop 24/7. So every assignment, the ones that we needed to do and the ones that the teachers just put there just for us to do in our free time or for extra credit, I did every single one of them. If I had any missing work on my missing tabs, I would get it done as soon as possible. So it became to me a really serious addiction to it. I could not get off the laptop. I was always doing work.

And I know a lot of people used to search up answers. For me, when there's something I'm struggling with and I reach out to a teacher and they're not answering because they're still figuring stuff out themselves, and I ask a friend and they don't know what's happening, and I couldn't search it up because I felt really guilty. I couldn't. And I also built it in my head that I was being watched through the computer and through my phones. So I kept that in me. And I feel like through that, because of that, I
learned so much because I was trying to learn everything myself. I didn't rely on Google.

Joyce Lake: Yes, yes.

Raghad: Okay. So my next question for Ms. Lake is how did you feel when

Joyce Lake: Maybe you're thinking how did I feel as a teacher having to approach students and how did I feel as a teacher approaching students who needed to have a person in front of them and that they would see me. And I was going through my own struggles of my own household, because we were a generational household. My mother-in-law was in her nineties, my husband was an octogenarian. I had my daughter who is a registered nurse and she had to go out there in the trenches. I had my grandson who had to also transition into this virtual learning. So as a mother, woman, wife, person, individual, I had a lot going on too. I also have my students.
And it's interesting as a teacher, that no matter who else is around, you feel that you need to get these students ready. And it was very nerve-racking. I wanted to jump through the computer at times because I didn't know what I was doing. 

And yet I had to be the one to instruct. Yes. And what I like about you even today, is that you would ask me to preview something that you've written, and it would be, "Well, how does this sound? Or how does that sound?" And each way that you were willing to write, it sounded so good. So that is a true reflection of not your guilt, but your tenacity, your ability to move even on your own. So I applaud you. I really do.

Raghad: My next question is, did you feel like through COVID, of course most teachers are saying that they lost connection with their students and they weren't able to just have that one-on-one feel to it as they're in the school building, don't you feel like in any sort of way you've built a stronger connection through virtual learning with your students?

Joyce Lake: Yes. Education is a business, and with it comes the times when you have to actually help those who want to help themselves because so many students had other problems going on. We faced homelessness, and there were students who didn't know where they were going to get their next meal.

And yet I had to coax them through the ability to keep going. So I did feel some kind of disconnect with some students. And even now as you reach out again, you could see that they were always going to be disconnected. You were happy, you had a connection with your [inaudible] and your laptop. Some students didn't even have that. So yes, I still think about some students who just couldn't volley through it.

Raghad, bringing this closer to just the education system here, do you feel like some things that were not done properly that could have been better? Or if there was a way that you could have been prepared for it as you were teaching normally with something sudden happening like this, do you feel like just you could have been taught better or how to use platforms like Google Classroom, Google Docs.

We were like soldiers, infantry, boots on the ground. We had to learn as we went along. And there are teachers who just didn't pick it all up. I still don't have the technology knowledge that I would have loved to have. But meanwhile, students have more technology, they're more techno-savvy. And that's good for the age that you're moving into. But the disconnect became a social disconnect where students
are only attached to the technology. So could I have done something better or could I have been taught better? 

We were all in a state of shock. Nobody had the bunker to hang into. You had to work, you had to be account accountable while the parents were not as accountable and they struggled. We had to hold it together for everyone. I don't think that I could have been taught better. I think that what we did, holding our students together was a great, great effort, individually and collectively.

Raghad: I think as a student right now and as someone who experienced both on in-person learning and virtual learning, I just want to say thank you so much to all the teachers. Because we know that you guys put in a lot of work for us, and sometimes I feel like as just human beings and just teenagers, we sort of forget that you guys are human too and have feelings like us. So I remember seeing teachers, when we finished
virtual learning, having my teacher be stumped on a problem. And I looked at him and I said, "Oh, you don't know?" And he's like, "No, no." I was like, "Give me a second. Let me figure it out." And your teacher is supposed to know everything. And he just looked at it, and he's like, "I'm just as a human as you are." And I feel like that really stuck to me. And sometimes we do forget that you guys are humans. You guys have family problems as well. You guys have outside-world problems. And this is you guys'
work and we're here for you guys to help us. And we're also here for you to help you guys also set stuff done.

Joyce Lake: There are many levels of education and teachers. Visually, you can see that I taught a different set of years. Whereas, you might find a younger teacher who can identify with your understanding of technology and where to go, where I was a chalk and talk teacher. And each time I had to learn a new skill in order to stay active and proactive. And in the end, many teachers just wanted to hug our students
and tell them that it was okay.

We run this race where we think that we must be in every grade at a certain age, and forget that everyone doesn't have the same mental capacity to be at a certain grade at a certain age. And we have to learn to accept the person where they are and push them forward. You might have started with one person that you know, but you may have left them behind because you were able to grasp more. So it does become an opportunity in education. And in education, we also have a subjective personality,
where sometimes a person just needs a hug and the attention and the eye contact. A computer cannot give you eye contact. And that is what makes them very, not stale, but not always human, more artificial. So we still have to work on the humanism side of education.

Raghad: So through COVID, a lot of us have learned so much. It wasn't just a virus that trapped us in our homes and disconnected us from society. It was a virus where we learned a lot of mental, physical stuff. And it makes our bond stronger together. And that's how I'm going to wrap up this podcast.

Speaker 4: This has been

Speaker 6:

Speaker 5: This podcast series is funded by the New York City Council and developed by History UnErased and Houses on the Moon in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. 

You just heard Raghad Aloudi and Miss Lake in conversation. Shout out to the podcast club Rafa, Amy, Imani and Raghad.

Speaker 4: And don't forget about Ezekiel, Angelos, and Bruno.

Speaker 5: And shout out to the podcast club staff members, Jeffrey Love, a/k/a Jeffrey Solomon, Dynamite Mac, a/k/a, DynaMac, and Raleigh Row the Rowster, a/ka Raleigh Neil. Thank you, everyone, for making this possible.

Speaker 6: Special thanks to Ms. Marino, Ms. Gabi, and Principal Witherspoon.