The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

Valerie Larsen

Making it through 2020

December 14, 2020

On March 12, 2020, the ETHS community received an email informing them that “based on the rapidly evolving health concerns with the coronavirus (COVID-19) and guidance of the North Cook Intermediate Service Center, ETHS District 202 is transitioning to an e-learning plan through April 12, 2020.”

Obvious to anyone working or attending ETHS, e-learning has extended further than April 12, and, as of Dec. 14, no one knows when or if in-person instruction will be able to start back up.

All of the parties involved in remote learning have inevitably encountered all kinds of challenges. From mental health to technological struggles, ETHS as a whole is fighting to combat the overwhelming difficulties of online schooling.

Naturally, different levels of the ETHS community have run into varying conflicts with e-learning. Teachers, administrators, staff members and parents are forced to juggle their own unique set of hardships during this time, but the group forced to balance all of these pressures are the students.

Amidst striving to navigate the tiring nature of e-learning, the rollercoaster that is 2020 has enhanced the feeling of exhaustion and made remote learning more challenging.

Going hand in hand with e-learning, the coronavirus pandemic has been a leading factor in increased stress levels. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Illinois, following the news has oftentimes been disheartening and even frightening. With safety guidelines in place such as masks and social distancing, feelings of isolation grow stronger and become harder to ignore.

In addition to the pandemic, hurting communities mourn the loss of Black lives taken too soon as a result of police brutality, with little justice resulting in their wake

The chaos of the 2020 election was consuming, complicated and difficult to dissect at points. In alignment with most people in America, students may have felt concerned while following the election in regards to the outcome, the prolonged counting of ballots and the safety of those students who were eligible to cast ballots. The end of this stressful period resulted in President-elect Joe Biden being called as the winner, despite President Donald Trump’s claims of a fraudulent election.

With everything happening, it has been difficult for many to remain level-headed and prioritize their well-being. Students are craving distractions and creative sources of joy in attempts to temporarily break free from the stress of 2020 and relax.
From getting active to unwinding on the couch by watching their favorite shows: here is how students have been making it through 2020.


Sports build community during COVID-19

Getting active and being a part of a team are both great ways to spark joy during rough times. Although 2020 came with many new regulations, some sports were still able to go on as normal, offering a great way for some students to deal with the unprecedented times.

“[Diving] helped me cope a lot with COVID-19 because I liked being in the high school again, and I had a team and a community… it made things feel like they were normal again, and it made me kind of feel like I was back at school,” sophomore Grace Motogawa says.

Some sports, including girl’s swimming and diving, cross country and tennis were able to take place, giving students normalcy amongst all of the chaos. However, many sports seasons were postponed due to COVID-19 or weren’t able to proceed as usual. Many members of these teams, upset by this change in their routine, had to find other ways to cope.

“I am one of those people who does every single thing that both ETHS and my club have offered for volleyball, and all of a sudden it was all taken away, and I didn’t have that. I was left to my own devices to figure out how I was going to break up my day and get physical exercise,” says senior Mary Henthorn.

With the lack of organized sports and contact-play, some ETHS sports programs came up with creative ways for students to get active and still participate in their sports without having a real season. The volleyball program even held a COVID-safe summer camp for students to play the sport.

“We were able to go outside next to Lazier on the field and play volleyball with masks on, and we washed the balls every once in a while,” Henthorn mentions. “We had a few nets up and we did three weeks of it, four days a week, which was just great.”

Whether it was in school during a season or not, students have used sports and physical activity to find community, something many students have tried to recreate, even in this year’s remote environments.

“The diving team and the swimming team do a lot of bonding… The diving team would warm up in small circles, and I got really close with the girls who were on my board, and they became my really good friends,” Motogawa states.

Although students are still facing challenges and missing a sense of normal, sports continue to be a way for some to come together, actively participate in an ETHS community and stay active heading into a new year.

Family bonds grow during pandemic

With the social isolation brought about by the pandemic, many students have been able to stay connected, relax and have fun by spending time with their families. Some students say that their bond with their families has grown and deepened during the months of isolation and that family time has helped their wellbeing during the pandemic.

“I’d say my family does have a pretty close bond. I have two younger brothers. One of my brothers is closer to my age, and then I have a younger brother. The age gap is really big, but we still find ways to get along and do a lot of stuff,” sophomore Ariana Flores says.

Senior Kaley Evelyn Luna echoes Flores’s comments about how helpful her family has been during the pandemic.

“I talk to my mom a lot to cope with stress, and I have a bunny, Colton—he’s a stress reliever. When I was in school, I would leave the house all the time, and I had sports after school, so I never really had the time to actually bond with my pets. I have that bonding time now,” Luna says.

“We do spend a lot of time together since we’re all at home, but we do have the habit of trying to make a particular day, for example, Friday… our day to watch a movie and have dinner together as a whole. Sometimes, we play Mario Kart or Smash Bros just to keep us entertained and have that quality time.”

Flores says that giving back to the community has been a great activity for her family during the pandemic.

“It depends on the family and what people want to do, but my mom and I really like to give back to people, so what we’ve done is we created baggies and put in necessities. We put a mask, we put water bottles, we put food, and we’re giving it back to the homeless to help with that. But, families can also go on a walk and go on a drive somewhere and just look around. There’s a lot of activities that you can still do, like seeing the Christmas lights,” Flores says.

Both Luna and Flores stress the importance of finding interesting activities to do as a family. They have also found that setting aside one night a week for a special family dinner or movie night has been very pleasant.

“It’s important to find family activities that bring you joy because it’s a great way to get people more stress relief from other stresses or hardships going on. It’s more important [this year] than in past years because of the pandemic going on,” says Flores.

Many students have felt that spending so much time with their family during these difficult times has strengthened the bonds that hold them together. Flores and Luna both say that being with their families has helped them cope with social isolation and, in fact, has brought them closer than ever to their family members.

“I think because of the pandemic, we’re all isolated together. I think my family and I have gotten closer. We’re more open towards each other now and talking a lot more,” says Flores.

Going forward, students feel that they will be able to use the time with their families that they’ve had to really understand each other and grow closer.

“I know a lot of families are getting closer, and a lot of people are getting close through the internet. I think that this [year] is going to make a lot more positive connections between people,” Flores says, “and people are going to be able to communicate more now.”


Students find ways to relax through reading

Between the pandemic, political events and online learning, many students are looking to leave the world behind for a while. Reading can do just that, providing a much-needed distraction for some students.

Literature helps some take their mind off of the stress in their lives. While many are feeling the absence of social gatherings, The New York Times says that controlled quantities of solitude can help our emotional state. The pandemic is definitely an example of too much of a good thing. However, the extra time to indulge in hobbies can be an unexpected benefit. The passion evident in students’ voices when they talk about literature makes this very clear.

“[Reading] is a way to escape. It always has been. I forget about everything else that is going on,” freshman Johanna Di Gioia says.

Freshman Arya Jennens agrees, “Reading helps me if I’m feeling really overwhelmed. It’s a good way to take a mental break.”

Not only is reading enjoyable, it also has significant benefits for one’s brain such as boosting vocabulary and helping critical thinking skills. Many also lean on their favorite authors during tumultuous times.

“Reading helped me get through the end of the year. I have projects that are worth a lot. That’s very stressful,” Jennens notes.
With schoolwork, socially-distanced hang outs with friends, and family obligations, finding the time to read can sometimes be a challenge.

“Educationally, there’s no separation from school and home. It’s more difficult to be focused at home. I have to find a way to get myself to participate and I have to motivate myself to do well,” Jennens says.

As Zoom classes threaten to erode work-life balance, hobbies of all kinds can offer support.

“I try to prioritize [reading],” Di Gioia says.

For others hoping to share their love of reading, the Books ‘R’ Us club is a great option. The club meets every other week and collectively picks their reading material.

“The Books R’ Us Book Club’s main goal is to encourage our students to promote the love of reading, to read for pleasure, to read books that are culturally relevant to the teen population we serve here at ETHS, and, lastly and probably most importantly, at this time to provide a safe space and ensure students feel comfortable expressing themselves,” says Traci Brown-Powell, the club’s sponsor and an Instructional & Informational Specialist.

Club member Kyla Phillips Thigpen sums it up perfectly: “Our whole lives have been moved online, and reading a book gives us a break from the screen and time to ourselves.”


Passion for music thrives during quarantine

As we enter the fifth month of remote learning, students are left grappling with the life-altering implications of the pandemic. With momentary pauses on clubs, activities and sports, students are turning to creative outlets to help them cope. Music, in particular, has given students an unparalleled amount of comfort, discipline, and connection with themselves and their peers.

Lily Straussman, a sophomore and member of ETHS theater, explains how music has allowed her to grow closer with friends during COVID-19—despite the physical distance between them.

“I have become more distant with some friends, but I’ve also made so many. Now that I’m thinking about it, so many of the people that I talk to over [Zoom] every day have bonded over music. With people posting more on social media because there’s not much to do, I see somebody post about their music and I’m like, ‘Hey I like that album’ and then we start talking and we realize we have all these things in common… Music has brought me closer to people in certain ways, even if I can’t be with them in their space.”

For Straussman, her interest in music has grown stronger as a result of her involvement in the ETHS theater program. However, remote learning has caused challenges to her future ambitions in theater.

“[When I was] a freshman, I started to get into the theater program. I got into Chicago and things were going well, but then school shut down and so I lost a big chunk of high school to get my name out into the program, which has made it difficult because so many more kids are going to be trying out.”

Additionally, she describes how theater needs intimacy and physical space to thrive and create a relationship with the audience – something that is unachievable amidst a pandemic.

“[ETHS] had a fall play but I didn’t try out because when it’s virtual you lose so much of what makes theater so special. You miss the interaction, and the interaction with the audience and being able to touch people on stage and being able to be close with somebody. That’s one of the most magical parts about it. [Losing] that aspect feels so different.”

Another student, senior Asher Baron, has taken this online period to further develop their instrumental skills. As a member of ETHS band, Baron has found that COVID-19 has created more opportunities to practice, contributing to their growth as a musician.

“In trying to make the best of it, I’ve discovered that there’s this kind of centering and very focused discipline that comes when you’re sitting and practicing for one, two, three hours a day. That provides some pattern of growth over these days that seem to run together, and I’ve just found that having stuff to work towards getting better—even when things feel unusual and unpredictable—is a very grounding experience,” Baron says.

Baron also explains why finding activities that are fulfilling and joyous are crucial–with or without the pandemic.

“Even amidst all this chaos, it’s important to find joy. I think we often get caught up in ‘I have this assignment due. My grade is not where I would like it to be,’ and we forget that we’re human beings, and we can’t be our best human beings without sources of joy,” Baron says. “Especially now, when we’re not seeing peers in-person, having something that provides you joy makes you feel more like a real human being: a person with goals, and motivation and joy. That’s what the human experience should be centered around: joy.”

Though online learning has presented many challenges, music, as well as other activities, has proven to be a resourceful method in helping students cope amidst these unprecedented times.


Being outside offers a break from e-learning

It’s relatively common knowledge that spending time outdoors has tremendously positive effects on a person’s health, both mentally and physically. People have long been encouraged to soak in the fresh air and sunlight only found in the world outside of a home or a place of work.

According to Time Magazine, “Spending time outdoors, especially in green spaces, is one of the fastest ways to improve your health and happiness. It’s been shown to lower stress, blood pressure and heart rate while encouraging physical activity and buoying mood and mental health. Some research even suggests that green space is associated with a lower risk of developing psychiatric disorders—all findings that doctors are increasingly taking seriously and relaying to their patients.”

Under more normal circumstances, one could spend a sufficient amount of time outside by walking to school, biking to work, or going for a run along Lake Michigan. However, the past months have been anything but normal and have forced continual adjustments due to the reality that merely being outside has the potential to cause harm to yourself or others.

“I don’t walk around my neighborhood if I can help it. I don’t want to be near people. It is nice to be somewhere besides my house, but I also feel anxious because I don’t want to get sick and then spread the Coronavirus. I feel more nervous depending on where I am; if it’s just my backyard it’s fine but if I have to walk to the store or anything like that I’m uncomfortable,” sophomore Caroline Mathee says.

Given the reality of life during a pandemic, the ability to be outside has rapidly become a commodity, and those without this precious access are left lacking time outdoors.

“I don’t have a backyard that I can go sit in which has really limited the time I can spend outdoors, especially during the pandemic. My friends and I are trying to be outside in safe ways by doing things we wouldn’t normally do such as hosting distanced bonfires with masks on, but COVID-19 cases are rising so we haven’t in a while. It’s difficult for me to get outside as often as I used to because I’m in the same environment, my house, for the whole day doing online school.” sophomore Selah Stirnaman says.

Students stuck at home have also had to deal with the forming of unhealthy habits,

“When I do one thing, such as e-learning, for that long every day I tend to become hyper-focused on it and since there’s no change in my day or scenery like going to school and coming home, I tend to start schoolwork or other online activities right after classes end instead of going to do something else like being outside. I spend so much time in one place that I’ve gotten used to it and it’s harder to break that routine and get outdoors,” Stirnaman adds.

Attending school on a computer has proven challenging for staff and students alike, as such, many other students have welcomed the opportunities they’ve had to get outdoors and break up their routine.

“Being outside has helped me get out of my routine. The school days are all the same: we’re on screens all day that need WiFi to work and we have only a 30-minute break, that’s not sufficient. It’s very repetitive and it’s tiring doing the same things over and over, same classes, same room, same everything—it gets annoying. When I go outside I see animals like raccoons and play with my dog Max, I get to take a break from everything that’s stressing me out,” Mathee says.

As the 10th month of in-person school being shut down is well in swing, it’s imperative to continue to be outside as much as possible. It is vital to one’s health and happiness, especially with so much going on in the world.


Movies and TV create an escape from a tough year

While attempting to navigate the complicated atmosphere of 2020, students have found it beneficial to escape into imaginary worlds of their choosing. Streaming services such as Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu and more have served as sources of amusement amidst isolation and stress.

Students note that movies and television have allowed them to temporarily direct their attention away from the stressful elements of 2020.

“Between not getting to see my friends and a lot of famous celebrities, like Kobe [Bryant], dying, movies have been a chance to get away, because they capture all types of emotion,” junior Damascus Wheeler-Young explains. “If you want to feel happy, watch a wholesome movie; if you want to laugh, you can watch a comedy.”

A substantial stressor of 2020 for students has been e-learning. Remote learning has evoked a unique form of pressure in students, due to the inevitable limitations of an entirely online curriculum, and freshman Greer Rutter has used television as a way to relax after a long day of learning.

“With the pandemic, it’s been harder this year academic-wise, because I think a lot of students are burnt out. The time period of schoolwork and homework has blended, so it’s been pretty tiring. Having an outlet, like a TV show or movie you really love can be really helpful for your mental state,” Rutter says.

Television’s benefit extends further than solely being a distraction, movies and TV shows can also alleviate boredom while stuck at home.

“Movies are my main source of entertainment. Usually, it’s my friends, but since we have to quarantine and I can’t see them, TV has helped to fill that void,” says Wheeler-Young.

Despite social limitations imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, watching movies and TV shows does not have to be an isolated activity. Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party) is a web browser extension that allows viewers to chat with their friends online while watching a movie or TV show of their choosing.

“I’ve used Netflix Party with my friends before, and it’s nice to have some interaction through the chat feature. I would recommend it if you miss watching movies with your friends, which I know I definitely do,” Rutter notes.

In addition to Teleparty, Rutter has watched movies with her family as a way to pass time.

“Sometimes we’ll have movie nights, which are really fun. I like watching movies by myself, but it’s always nicer to have people by your side, and it’s a good way to bond with your family.”

Whether by yourself or with the safe interaction of company, whether to distract from the chaos of this year or simply to fill free time at home, movies and TV shows can benefit students in search of a break from school. Taking a trip with Dorothy down the yellow brick road, or fighting alongside Captain America can relieve the compiling struggles of reality.

Rutter spells out, “At the end of the day, movies are something other than the world we’re living in. There are dystopias, fantasies or really anything. Especially with everything happening in 2020, it’s nice to have that alternate world to escape to.”

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