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Road to Recovery: Back in the Classroom

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Yahoo Finance's Reggie Wade speaks with 6 students from White Plains High School in New York to hear how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected education. The students speak about virtual learning, what it has been like going to school wearing masks, and their hopes for the future of the school year heading into 2021.

Video Transcript

REGGIE WADE: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of American life, but none more so than at our hospitals and in our schools. For most of 20 the joyful sounds emanating from these bustling hallways was replaced with deafening silence, as proms, classes, and graduation ceremonies were canceled and millions of students were denied the rites of passage that generations before them have cherished. We're here at White Plains High School in White Plains, New York speaking with six students about the road to recovery back to the classroom.

Can you describe what it was like going to school during a pandemic? How about Carter? How about we start off with you?

CARTER REYNOLDS: It was kind of hard at first, logging on to Zoom. Hold bunch of troubleshooting that we had to do. But then once we got used to it, it was a lot easier, a lot better.

REGGIE WADE: Anyone else want to jump in? I'll call on people, you know.

THIAGO GUIMARAES DE OLIVERIA: For me it was like a routine. Get up, brush your hair, put your mask on, make sure you have your homework. And personally for me, every single class we had the same homework for like two or three months straight. We didn't really learn much and that really affected my education.


- I feel like it was challenging learning online because you don't really have that like interaction with your teacher. So asking for help was pretty difficult.


ANDRES GOMEZ GARCIA: So for my personal experience, I grew up on a not too much technology environment. So I was used to like more like handwriting. And when the pandemic came it was pretty challenging for me to always be on task and all that. But as like my friend [INAUDIBLE] said, you'll just be at a routine and then you just get used to it.


BRIAN MULVEY: I agree with the routine comment. I personally didn't struggle too much. While there is a lack of socialization between you, your peers, your teachers, you are able to take advantage of a lot of time.

REGGIE WADE: Now, how often do you guys watch the news? Show of hands. How many of you watched the news every night? Not nightly news watchers. So when the pandemic was going on, how would you get you news? Would it be on Twitter, social media from friends? Thiago.

- It'd be like those Instagram pages I just see everything that's happening in the world. And then I get the notification from the news app. I didn't think much of it, but then as a progressed, it got worse in some countries where I was from and then it eventually came to New York and then we just knew it was going to hit.

REGGIE WADE: Same thing, you guys. Instagram is usually where you get most of your news? At what point did you say this is really getting serious?

CARTER REYNOLDS: When they extended it. We were supposed to come back a few days after, but when they kept on extending it, extending it, that's when we were like, OK, this has to be something serious and stuff.

REGGIE WADE: And what was the most scariest part of the last year and a half for you? Andres?

ANDRES GOMEZ GARCIA: I will say that the most scariest part was like having no interaction with anybody. Like most people would sometimes feel alone or like because they wouldn't have like interaction with other people. And if your parents had to work, you'll be all the time at home. And you will most likely start doing things like always being on your phone or playing video games and wouldn't really go out and do any type of exercise on anything. So I would say that I'll be the most scariest part.

REGGIE WADE: When they sent you guys home for the first time, how long did you guys think you would be home?

RINA STANGHELLINI: I mean, we expected two weeks. They gave us paper packets of two weeks' worth and we're like, we'll be back. And then not two weeks passed, our paper packet was filled with our work and we didn't have anything else.

REGGIE WADE: How long in total were you guys out of the classroom?

RINA STANGHELLINI: School shut down about March 14 and we were not back until maybe a month into this school year.

REGGIE WADE: Did you guys ever think you were going to get back to the classroom? Evelyn?

EVELYN PARDO: I don't think-- well, at first, I was really confused because they were extending it. I did think we were going to come back, just not that soon.

REGGIE WADE: Same? Same all around? What's it like wearing masks in school? I see all you have beautiful masks. White Plains High School proud. But it was it really tough having to put on a mask every day when you did come back to school?

THIAGO GUIMARAES DE OLIVERIA: Honestly for me, I don't mind it at all. Some people make a big deal out of it, but it's just a mask. It's not going to stop me from doing anything and I don't mind it at all.

REGGIE WADE: And we hear the talk that some people are suggesting, some organizations, that students wear masks this upcoming school year. Anyone bummed out about that, having to wear a mask again?

- No.

- No.


RINA STANGHELLINI: I think it's a trade off, you know. I'd rather be back in school with everybody and be wearing masks than do half and half and not wear masks.

REGGIE WADE: What's something that's encouraged you throughout this pandemic? Brian, what's something that's really encouraged you?

BRIAN MULVEY: That me and my family has not really suffered directly from the virus. That no one that I've known has really gotten too badly sick. So I felt kind of blessed from that. Others are in much worse situations and be grateful for what I have.


CARTER REYNOLDS: The same thing. My parents-- I'm an only child so it was just me and my mom and my dad. We haven't really been affected by it. None of us got sick. So I mean, it was cool just to keep on going, see how far we can actually go with it, without getting in danger of anything.

REGGIE WADE: Has anyone here gotten sick with COVID? Evelyn, what was that like?

EVELYN PARDO: I mean, I was perfectly fine, other than the fact that I did test positive. I was asymptomatic, so I didn't feel anything. It really just hit my father. My mom and I were asymptomatic and my brother just didn't have COVID. As young people, did you guys kind of feel like you were immune to it because we saw it doesn't really affect young people as much as it does older folks or did you feel almost like a certain sense of, I'm good.

RINA STANGHELLINI: Definitely, but then keeping in the back of our minds, our grandparents, anybody who is immunocompromised in our household and just the fact that we could carry it to them, even if we don't feel anything, was scary.

REGGIE WADE: Show of hands. How many of you guys enjoyed virtual learning? I see none. Why not?

THIAGO GUIMARAES DE OLIVERIA: It was just really hard for me. For me to do well, I have to be-- I have to have a connection with my teacher. I have to be friends with them, we talk to them. And when I came back to school, that's exactly what I did. The first day of school, I made friends with my teachers and my grades went up literally the first week.

CARTER REYNOLDS: I have to agree with him. It's hard for me to do work in my house because I there's so much other things I can do in my own household. But at school you're sitting there in a class for like 40 minutes and you have to do that one thing, but at my house you can do whatever you want, so it was like really hard to focus on school.


ANDRES GOMEZ GARCIA: I agree with what they say. So for me, online learning was also really difficult because you also had a lot of other things to do. And the thing for me was that you would procrastinate. You would say, I'll do this later and you will keep going and going and then at the end of the day, you would have time to like do all the work you had to do. And since when you are in here in school, you're always in contact with the teacher. If you have any questions, you can ask right away. And if you need clarification on one thing, they could give it to you, while we were doing it online, it would be more like as a whole class so she wouldn't really like-- or the teacher wouldn't really be focused on you for a little while. So yeah.

REGGIE WADE: What was it like interacting with them from virtual learning to coming back into the classroom and how did they help you get readjusted to life back in the classroom?

CARTER REYNOLDS: It was kind of hard online because some of the teachers are more you traditional and I like paper and paper and pencil. So when we got straight on to like-- we use an app called, a website called Schoology and when they got onto that it started getting a little bit more challenging. But once we got in the classroom they were right there to help us in the best way they could.


BRIAN MULVEY: I actually never went back to the classroom. I stayed virtual throughout the school year, which definitely-- The teachers had to split their attention more as a hybrid approach was established on a daily basis. So the teacher'sa attention was definitely more on the students in the classroom, which is understandable. I had chosen my choice out of safety for my family and just because I didn't feel like the risk was worth it. I don't think I suffered too much from it and I was able to finish out my year well.


RINA STANGHELLINI: Online, it's very hard for the teachers to see like what type of student you are. It's very different from being in the classroom. And the past year, I was a junior, so that's the year that I get letters of recommendation from teachers for college and just building that relationship online was tough. And I think the teachers did an awesome job making sure that we had chances to conference with them on our half day Wednesdays and then when we were in school they made sure that they talked to us, checked in, and just the whole year was just making sure that everybody was OK with the stress from the COVID-19 pandemic.

ANDRES GOMEZ GARCIA: I would like to add to that. So I also think that teachers did a wonderful job because they learned how to use it technology in a new way, since before we didn't really use the website Schoology. And they learned how to have more resources for us. They made videos explaining it to us. They made a lot of different things to help us understand better the topic. And although I would always prefer being in school, it really did help sometimes. So I think they did a great job and they tried really hard for us to make it easy to us.

REGGIE WADE: So what was that first day like? Evelyn, the first day back, what did it feel like?

EVELYN PARDO: It felt odd not seeing the hallways as packed as they usually are because there are a lot of students in our school. But it felt nice being able to actually see my teacher face to face. Even though I didn't have a mask on, it was nice being able to really start to grow a bond and a connection with them. Because like Rina said, it was our junior year, so that's when you do ask for letters of recommendation and I felt like it was difficult to ask for a recommendation if they don't really know me.

REGGIE WADE: Carter, what about you?

CARTER REYNOLDS: Yeah. I mean, the first day of school it was kind of weird because I was here for two years and then trying to learn like the hallways again, I was kind of struggling, for me, not going to lie to you. But I mean, it was-- the first day of school, it was cool. Seeing my teachers-- seeing my teachers face to face was-- you can make more of a connection when you actually see someone than over a computer screen.

REGGIE WADE: Anyone like to add on? Andres?

ANDRES GOMEZ GARCIA: So like they said, you were able to make an actual connection with the teacher. You're able to get to know them. They will get to know you. And it would be better. Because like I say, like when I was learning online learning, I didn't do as good. But once the teacher got to know me, they would find out-- they were able to tell what kind of student I was and that way it helped me improve in my grades and in school overall.

REGGIE WADE: Thiago, I hear you're the vice president of student government here, right? So I want to start with you this next question. What do you think the job that government has done and local, city officials, and federal officials have done throughout this pandemic?

THIAGO GUIMARAES DE OLIVERIA: I think that the rules they put in place, everything that they organized, city events, school events, anything that has to do with children and people's safety, I think that they did a tremendous job and that it should continue to be done. Even though everybody's getting vaccinated, people are downplaying COVID and I don't think that's right because it's still, it's out there. Numbers are going up again and that's only because people are not paying attention to it as much.

But I think that the government and the city officials did a tremendous job because they made sure that every single local business owner had the rules in place. Every single place in the city had rules that just made people feel safe, whether it was glass walls or whatever to talk to people, or maybe just mask mandates, that really helped. It really did.

REGGIE WADE: Brian, what about you?

BRIAN MULVEY: I agree with Thiago. I never questioned my safety going into public spaces.

THIAGO GUIMARAES DE OLIVERIA: I would like to just add that in places more urbanized like the city, I think they could have done a better job with the subway. Even though you can't really reinforce people wearing lost on the subway, but it was always super crowded because I went to the city a few times and it was always super crowded, the subway. So for matters of public transportation, I think they could have done a better job.

REGGIE WADE: Are you guys afraid that another lockdown might take place now that the Delta variant, cases from that are rising? Evelyn, you?

EVELYN PARDO: I'm scared that we are going to be in another lockdown. And it kind of sucks if we do go into another one because it is our last year for some of us here. So I just want something close to normal to finish off my high school experience.

REGGIE WADE: I hear that. Andres.

ANDRES GOMEZ GARCIA: I agree with her. Although I would not like to have a lockdown again, I would like to have like the last two years of my high school to be normal again and be able to like enjoy time with your friends and with your teachers.


CARTER REYNOLDS: I mean, yeah, like Evelyn said, it's going to be a senior year. I know how hard it was for the seniors that graduated this year to get through it. They missed their prom and stuff. It was kind of hard for them. I mean, if we really need to have a lockdown, I think it would be cool, or not cool but good to have another lockdown because of how-- now we know what's going to happen so I think it makes everyone safe. If it was a lockdown it would be a good idea.

REGGIE WADE: So most of you guys are seniors, seniors. Some of you are in 11th grade, so you're thinking about college. First, what are your college plans and how has the pandemic affected that? Carter?

CARTER REYNOLDS: I was thinking about it. I want to try to go to college for four years for marketing. I wanted to be in marketing. So we have a whole bunch of marketing classes here that I took and I loved it, so that's what got me into wanting to go to college for that.

REGGIE WADE: Any specific kind of marketing?

CARTER REYNOLDS: Sports marketing. I'm a big fan of sports, so anything like that would be awesome.

REGGIE WADE: Awesome. Awesome. Evelyn?

EVELYN PARDO: Feel like the pandemic made it kind of difficult because I would like to go to a four year school, but WCC is also a really good community college and it just seems easier to stay home or to stay local than to leave the state.

REGGIE WADE: I hear that. Andres?

ANDRES GOMEZ GARCIA: So next year I'm actually going to start taking a class in WCC for mechanical engineering, so I'll be taking the classes during in the last two years of high school. And then after that I'll probably go to another college far away from here. Brian.

BRIAN MULVEY: I hope to be able to run in college one day. I think COVID sort of facilitated that because when school ended early my freshman year, I was able to get really into athletics and really passionate about it. Not really too many detriments for the college journey, but my sister was choosing schools and she had a rough time visiting and learning about schools due to COVID.


THIAGO GUIMARAES DE OLIVERIA: So my plan is to go to NYU for college. I think COVID facilitated that because if anything, it has me even more inspired than ever to go and achieve more in the classroom because whether or not we're in COVID it's still going to count. College is still going to look at like what you did your sophomore year, your freshman year. It doesn't matter that we had COVID or not. So it scared me a bit and I think about it, like, oh my God, I'm going to college like two years. That's crazy, right? But I just got to work hard. That's it. That's where I get it.


RINA STANGHELLINI: I'm planning to major in cybersecurity and run on a team. COVID really made it difficult to visit schools and I think that's such a big part of making your college decision. So thankfully now things are opening up, but that was a big difficulty.

REGGIE WADE: Brian, you said you have a younger sister right?

BRIAN MULVEY: Older sister.

REGGIE WADE: Older sister. All right, how many of you guys have siblings? Older, younger?


REGGIE WADE: Older anyone. Younger siblings? Rina, you're shaking your head yes?


REGGIE WADE: How was it being a big sister during a pandemic?

RINA STANGHELLINI: So my sister's a ninth grader or tenth grader now at White Plains High School. And just knowing that I had a great freshman year and it was the first year in high school. Knowing that my sister didn't get that when she was in ninth grade it was kind of like, my hopes for her is that she'll have something normal by the end of her high school career.

REGGIE WADE: Speaking of that. Do you guys feel like you've been cheated because of this pandemic? That you've really missed out on stuff? Evelyn?

EVELYN PARDO: Yeah. I mean, like Rina said, we did have a normal freshman year, but it's freshman year, so nothing interesting really happened. And we're graduating this upcoming June and it's like, we didn't really have a high school experience. We really just got robbed of it.


ANDRES GOMEZ GARCIA: I agree with what she said. I think that like since because of COVID, since schools closed like the last [INAUDIBLE] final classes, they didn't really count down much, so some schools didn't really pay attention to it. And I feel like while we were learning online, we didn't-- weren't able to learn as much as we could if we were in person, so I do feel like we got a little bit cheated on that.


CARTER REYNOLDS: It was really hard coming back, especially if you're a big in sports. Some sports, like the contact sports, you have to wear masks and I can see that'd be a challenge for some people, but I mean, I did swimming in the summer so obviously, there's no contact in that. You didn't have to wear a mask because we were in the water. But I can feel like basketball and wrestling, I feel like they have to go hard, challenging time, especially for these seniors I wanted to go to college for sports, it was kind of really hard for them.


THIAGO GUIMARAES DE OLIVERIA: I agree with Carter because I play soccer and soccer is not really a contact sport. And we started to wear masks. So running back the field for 95 minutes straight, it takes a lot of cardio. So there's pros and cons to it because I got a lot of cardio, my lung capacity and everything. But then I got so tired because of the mask and I couldn't-- I took it off and I got to like a yellow card. That's what happened. It was bad.

REGGIE WADE: Has the pandemic changed the way you guys view the world? Brian, has it changed the way you view the world?

BRIAN MULVEY: I'd say so, especially as public health has become more of a political spectrum. So you see our different areas of the world or country view the pandemic.

THIAGO GUIMARAES DE OLIVERIA: For me, I just saw a lot of equity issues in the world because where I'm from, I'm from Brazil, and we didn't even get the vaccine, like the full. All of the vaccines are just coming out now and that's not really fair since why should the US get a lot of vaccines, but Brazil shouldn't because Brazil is really suffering from that. And other countries are too. So I don't I see this more of a-- it's not just about countries and nation, globalized stuff. It's also about when COVID first came out, a lot of celebrities got the testing first and that's not fair because why should they be safer than we should?

ANDRES GOMEZ GARCIA: I agree with what Thiago said. And I'm from Colombia so I also think that like the government from my country over there, they didn't really take seriously at first the pandemic and the whole virus, so they didn't react as quick. And I would always be scared of my family over there since all my family's over there, my grandparents. And being here, I wasn't able to go see them again and you wouldn't know what could happen to them.

THIAGO GUIMARAES DE OLIVERIA: I had somebody in my family pass away because of COVID and I'm like 100% sure that it would not happen if they had been in the US because the US has so many resources, so many health departments and everything to take care of people and other countries don't.

REGGIE WADE: What would you guys tell your future children about what it was like living through a pandemic? Carter.

CARTER REYNOLDS: I'd probably tell them it was like being grounded for almost a year. Right? Yeah, almost a year. Can't really do a lot of things outside of your house. You have to be really safe, really cautious with what you do. And I mean, they probably still wouldn't get it. They probably still want to trust me when I say it, but it really happened. It really affected us in a crazy way.


EVELYN PARDO: I would probably tell them that I was very difficult to learn online. At least for me, having to share like my home space, like my happy place into like my school area, it was really difficult to try to be productive. Because when you're in school in a normal life, it's like you're here for six, seven hours and then you go home and you're like, OK, I'm going to spend two hours on my homework. That's fine, like you can do that. But having to sit there for seven hours behind a screen or in front of a screen and then to have you switch it to like, OK now, I can relax. It was pretty difficult to adjust to that. So I would tell them the struggles of that.

THIAGO GUIMARAES DE OLIVERIA: I think that our children would probably be used to having screens in front of them all day. I think that how education is going, all these freshmen are getting iPads, all these kids are getting iPads, and they're starting at a young age. Kids are getting iPads in elementary school and I don't think that it should be done that way because you shouldn't stay on a screen all day long. That's not-- I don't see how that's good for education. So I don't think they're going to care too much about us being on our Zoom calls all day. But I am going to tell them that I was in a pandemic and it was getting serious because a lot of people died and that they should be grateful they don't have to deal with that.


ANDRES GOMEZ GARCIA: I agree with what he said. I also think that like kids from such a young age shouldn't be too much into technology. I believe that it's because the way I was raised, but I don't think it's good for their health and all that. And I mean, as Thiago said, education is going to keep moving forward with technology so we're just going to keep implementing it and making it better for us to learn.


BRIAN MULVEY: I think it's a unique period of time. [INAUDIBLE] talk of children and technology, this is the only school that some kids have ever known. Like kids in kindergarten, this is their first year of school and it will drastically change as time goes on, but they don't know any different.


RINA STANGHELLINI: I think COVID-19 will be a generation divide. Much we would never know how it felt to be alive during 9/11, they will never know how it would feel to be alive during this pandemic. And I think they'll always be like in disbelief at what we went through. And I think the only thing we can hope to instill in them is everything we've learned during this pandemic. What we've learned to value. Human connection, being in school, like hopefully we can instill that in them so that they won't take anything for granted like we did.

REGGIE WADE: So are you guys hopeful for the future? Brian, how about we start with you?

BRIAN MULVEY: In terms of dealing with this virus, I think yes. Eventually enough the world will be vaccinated and there will be enough of an understanding that the world will improve and hopefully it'll be eradicated from the population.


CARTER REYNOLDS: Yeah, of course. I think everyone should have hope. Right now we're slowly, like very slowly inching our way, getting back into stuff, but now with this new one, I think it's going to be-- we're going to still have to have hope, just in case if this one does become as big as COVID. But yeah, I think hope is like a really good thing to have all around, whenever you need it.


RINA STANGHELLINI: I think that, at least in the US, we will definitely be out of COVID. We won't be affected by it. And I think it's important to remember that while we might not still be in the midst of a pandemic, there's other places in the world that might be still affected by it, but I hope and I think it's so important for everyone to hope and not just like wish, but to also work towards making the world a better place after COVID.


THIAGO GUIMARAES DE OLIVERIA: I just really hope that masks don't become as political as they are now and vaccinations because in my opinion, it doesn't make sense, but I'm going to respect, obviously respect everybody's opinion. But yeah, what Rita said. I'm sorry, what she said, I just I hope that the recovery back from COVID brings back a lot of wealth and a lot of just positive things back into our society because that's what COVID did. It just brought negative things. It brought poverty, it brought a lot of things.


ANDRES GOMEZ GARCIA: I would say that and we also, we all will learn a lot from this experience. Us experiencing it right now in school, you guys, that it affected your work, our parents, we all learned something from it and it's good to try and find the good things that this gave us. For me, it allowed me to spend more time with my family. And although it was a bad time, I think everything will improve and in order to not have something like this happen again.


EVELYN PARDO: I have hope, but at the same time I don't because there are still people in our country that don't believe that there's a virus going on and it's like there's people dying and it's like-- or people have died and you still don't believe in it. I don't know. I feel like vaccination, like that's your own personal belief, opinion, do whatever you want to do, but a mask, like just put it on. It protects yourself, it protects everyone else. It's not that big of a deal. But to have like adults arguing about putting it on and not putting it on, it's like, don't act like a child. Protect your children instead.

REGGIE WADE: Thank you guys so much.

When I left teaching in 2011, I never thought I'd be back in the classroom, especially under these circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic has robbed these students of their normalcy. But kids are tough, especially the kids we spoke to at White Plains High School. They show us that, yes, we are indeed on the road to recovery.