Kay Lustberg-Goldbeck has been the coordinator of the Gifted and Talented Onteora High School Community Mentor Program for the past 20 years. The program matches high-achieving students with professionals in the students’ areas of interest, involving mentorship meetings with the professionals, independent study and the completion and presentation of an authentic project. This year, Hudson Valley One reporter Terence P. Ward volunteered to work with Joni Huber on her project, which was to interview local high school students about how the pandemic has affected their lives.
Huber interviewed ten teens from schools around the region throughout March and April of this year. She asked them all similar questions:
Coping mechanisms – how did you relieve stress?
What are your thoughts about online school?
How did the pandemic test your friendships?
To avoid repetition in the article, we left out the questions and condensed the responses so that they read as an unbroken narrative.
Junior, Onteora High School
I would say that the way that I’m coping with everything is to make sure that my days aren’t just carbon-copy. I just try my best to make my daily routine not the same all day and to create variety throughout my days to prevent from creating cycles that are stressful. Throughout January, I didn’t go to school and I didn’t prioritize friends. I just looked after my grades and that got put on repeat. Now, I’m going to classes, seeing my friends and I’m doing things that make my life feel a little normal and not the same.
Even though I get to see my teachers and friends, I think the thing that I’ve missed the most is the collaboration in school – like doing a lab with my Science class, or discussion in English class. And teachers have done a really good job trying to create those collaborations, but it’s not the same, so I think that’s what I’ve missed the most.
I think that with my friendships, a lot of my friends and I would only hang out in a group with three or four people. We’re trying to be safe, and I only hang out with one person at a time, and we got to know each on a more personal basis, rather than on a big friendship. I think that’s something that has become beneficial because of the pandemic.
My aunt and uncle live in New York City and they used to come here a lot; but they only came once or twice, and that’s really hard, because I was very close to them. So, I try to call and Facetime with my aunt and with my other friends to maintain my relationships and friendships with them.
I’ve always been self-conscious of my braces. I had to have my teeth extracted and I have gaps. In that regard I’m very grateful that I can wear a mask. But hopefully when we don’t need to wear masks, I won’t have braces by then.
If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I wouldn’t have been able to explore different career choices. Last year I really began to have a college discussion with my parents and with my guidance counselor. I thought that I would pursue being a professional actor or dancer. So, I went to a very serious/challenging school for eight years. But I didn’t feel that there were options for me there. I just felt that this was something that I had to do. And when I was taking ballet and music lessons, it boxed me into a person that I didn’t want to be. So, I was able to experience different passions and interests. That was something that I was very grateful for. I don’t know if I would have had that realization, if it weren’t for all the time that I had on my hands because of the pandemic.
Junior, New Paltz High School
Just going out and playing soccer or lacrosse activities has been a stress-reliever for me. It’s also been a social thing. I get to see my friends for a minute, which has been really, really helpful. I haven’t gotten a therapist. I’ve honestly thought about getting a therapist. My friends are super, super, super, super, super-helpful, and so are my parents. I have a really good relationship with them, so I can talk to them. But my friends have been a good outlet for me and it’s working out.
I’ve chosen the people that I want in my friend group. We all care for each other, so we know we all want to care for one another, and they’ve all been good and lasting friendships.
I’ve definitely missed the normalcy that I took for granted for a long time: going to school, interacting with people. I miss this the most and took it for granted the most. Now that we’re going back to school, it’s not the same. As far as sports, it definitely sucks. But it’s the aspects of school that I took for granted for a really long time.
I was more worried about my grandparents or my parents during Covid. I wasn’t really worried about me – more the people in my life. Now that my friends and I are fully vaccinated, I’m not worried, but it’s never been about myself.
I definitely learned more about myself during the time that I had alone with my thoughts; I’ve learned a lot from myself and I got to know myself more. I don’t think I would have ever taken that time or journey with myself to grow as a person. I’m really glad I got that chance. It sucks that it’s been under these circumstances, but I’m glad I did change.
Freshman, Onteora High School
The pandemic has made me reevaluate my values a little bit and to try to look for the little things and not look for the big things to make me happy. Going into soccer every day is a nice way not to think about anything other than the sport and helping each other out. I think the pandemic has impacted me for the better. There’s definitely times when I see missed times because of Corona. But I think it’s made me have times where I’ve had to choose people to be around, the people that benefit me.
Senior, Onteora High School
I believe that online school has created a barrier between students and teachers. I really missed being in person with the teachers and getting to have face-to-face conversations with teachers and friends. That just adds to the learning experience so much. But I have been able to see my friends in other ways, such as skiing.
Due to the Coronavirus, I started volunteering at the Guatemalan Food Market. I probably would have gone into an area relating to that, Guatemalan Native Spanish-speakers, because that’s what I’m interested in.
Having a pet helped me cope with the pandemic. My dog’s name is Oreo. Sometimes she sleeps with me during the nighttime or comes to me in class, and it’s really nice to have her with me there.
Senior, New Paltz High School
I definitely only talked to my parents about Covid a lot. I think that I’ve been anxious about it, and that turns into other anxieties. So, it’s just been easier to talk to my parents about things, rather than googling things, ‘cause googling sucks. So yeah, I talked to my parents.
It helped me not take things for granted as much – like watching sports, going to friends and wearing a mask in a grocery store. And now, you wake up and you can’t do that. But it’s helping me gain perspective, and I think that’d be good. It’s helped me spend time with my family, which makes going to college a little harder. It’s definitely been a weird year, but it has its positive impacts.
During the summer I didn’t have plans. At school, my parents and teachers have handled everything right, and they’ve made it easier for me to stay focused and do work by being understanding and relaxed by this weird remote environment. Somewhere within the second semester, I kind of “checked out,” and my teachers have just been very helpful to make it a little easier.
I’ve seen my closest friends, so I don’t miss them so much. But the people that I wasn’t best friends with that I just talked to made everything seem a little more normal. It’s just seeing people like that whom I miss a lot.
During the beginning of quarantine, it was like not being able to see friends for a week, and then it transitioned into months, years and so on. The problem is maybe I should have hung out with them when there was a low risk. I didn’t really want to hang out with friends until I got vaccinated, so it’s a nice change. And before that, it was just a weird thing to just not see anyone outside of my immediate family. But I do like my family, so I was fine with it.
I personally wasn’t scared of dying, but of the long-term effects and the people around me. But I didn’t want to get Covid; that doesn’t sound like a fun experience.
I’m going to Hamilton College. I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for Covid. I wanted to browse for colleges, and I viewed this college and I really loved it – the campus is something, and the way they handled Covid helped me make up my mind because they handled it well. I reread the Percy Jackson series because I used to love them and they were good books. Hold up; they’re still good books.
I’ve been lucky to spend time with my family, because some people don’t like their parents. 2020 was my last full year at home, and just the fact that I was able to spend time with my parents was nice, and it’s still nice. I would have wanted to do this and visit friends, but I’m very fortunate.
Freshman, Onteora High School
Sometimes I feel really lonely, like in the beginning of quarantine when I wasn’t allowed to see anybody. I feel lonely at night and I have my dog (Otis) by my bedside at night, and there would be something nice and warm beside me and I wouldn’t feel as alone. Mostly when I’m lonely, or if I ever need a source of calming, they’re always there, so it’s nice to have someone always there for me.
In some ways, I appreciate that it’s brought me closer to some people. It’s also highlighted some of the issues that I’ve had, which made me reach out to some people. It’s also definitely changed my perspective of what makes a fulfilling life, like at the end of the day, what’s going to make me feel good when I’m living my life.
Boredom with myself and in general and having lots of time and loneliness caused watching TV shows, spending more time with friends and shaving my head.
Senior, New Paltz High School
I didn’t get a job or anything; I’ve been working for my neighbors and making a little money. But overall, I’ve spent many days sitting in a chair, listening to music, just thinking. I never got to do that before.
It was really bad. It kind of sucked. I think a lot of people can relate to me on that one. But it was nice in April, and we went out on a hike, just the three of us, social distancing. I brought a Frisbee, so we played with that and it was nice. We ended up breaking the Frisbee because we played Frisbee baseball.
I’ve always been interested in producing my own music. One of my other best friends, he’s pretty into music as well, and that was the first time we talked about it. I didn’t know he made music until now, and he showed me how to do it. I was amazed that so many programs were out there to make music, but you can make really cool stuff from literally your bedroom. Once I started going, I saw that I had no potential, so I thought, “Let’s just do this for fun.” I have been able to use my skills to make the intro sound for my journalism podcast project.
I started reading books again, picked it up for junior year and got back into it. The only book I read was the American History textbook. I started walking and doing the rail trail with friends and playing chess. I was really into chess sophomore year, but I didn’t have the time, so I stopped. I got back into it for three months, but then I stopped playing.
Sophomore, Onteora High School
I miss hallway acquaintances in school. It’s just weird not seeing everyone – even people that I don’t know, or you see someone that exists and it’s like, “Oh, I haven’t seen so-and-so for a year now.” I guess I just miss seeing people.
I’m actually participating in activities. I’m not a social person, but I miss people now and I want to participate in things.
I love my cat so much. He’s sleeping right here and he’s looking like an angel.
Junior, Kingston High School
I started thinking about my friends as therapists. Whenever I feel frustrated or mad about something, I know my friends are usually going through the same thing. So, we just talk about it. I haven’t seen anyone professionally, but my friends are definitely my therapists.
My brother is a musician, so during quarantine we were trying to learn new pieces, and that was a fun experience. I picked up the guitar, and that was nice. Also, I took a break from tennis for like four months, and when it was nicer weather, I started playing the game again. It did help me, because I was able to see my friends more and just hang out.
During the past year, I’ve had a lot of time to focus on myself and my health. I remember last year when school was shutting down, it was testing season and I was really stressed. But I found a way to manage my time, myself, my schoolwork and studying during the time that I was given because school shut down. So, I had a lot more time to just catch up on schoolwork, tennis, my instruments and reading for myself, which I don’t normally do because I usually read for school.
I felt a disconnect dealing with online school. I know it’s hard for everyone this year. I feel that teachers as well as students are having a hard time engaging in class, but it’s no one’s fault. Also, I feel that with online school, there’s a huge disconnect with the students and teachers. I get the feeling that there’s a possibility that some teachers don’t even know who I am, even though I’ve been in their class the whole year, and that’s unfortunate.
I’ve become more appreciative of what I had before, because I didn’t dislike school and I miss it. I think I took a lot of things for granted that I don’t anymore.
Whenever I’m frustrated with anything, I just go to my pets or pick them up and I feel better. Also, they give me a reason to go outside, which is good for you.
Junior, Kingston High School
I enjoyed having extracurricular activities to look forward to. For flute, I wasn’t thinking that we were going to have a marching season, but when we did end up having one, I was excited and I knew it was going to collide with AP exams, especially because I was a section leader. I had to teach on top of having my school, and that’s a lot of work.
I reached out to my friends and teachers for emotional support. I’ve missed my school friends: friends that stick with you and friends that you don’t really talk to on a daily basis, but when you do talk, you get along really well. I miss those school acquaintances – having a good coping/support system with friends shows you who your real friends are and the ones who won’t leave you because it’s a pandemic. I’ve been ranting to them. We’re all in a collective struggle, helping each other. Also, I have some teachers that I really like, and I wish I could talk with them on more of a personal level. It’s nice to see their body language. I feel comfortable to reach out to teachers – more in-person than online, because you know they’re going to respond, versus the possibility of them reaching out three hours later when you’ve figured out the answer to your question.
I miss being able to take tests in person. When I’m home taking a test, I can’t pace myself with the whole class, and there’s also that struggle with scanning your assignment. And then there’s that 11:59 due date. In-person learning you know you have the same test; you know who’s cheating. But online you don’t know, and that feels unfair in a way.
I’ve reached out to friends that were my friends five years ago, and I would have never thought that we would be friends again, but that’s a positive in this whole situation.
You get to learn how to cope on your own. Joining tennis would be one of those skills. I just focused on myself and discovered parts of myself. TikTok normalizing coming out, BLM, LGBTQ+ and activists – all these things combined and having time to relax at the beginning of school and when school wasn’t happening.
We were on high-alert mode, we knew it was going to happen, we were prepared: masks, gloves, everything. We were in the early stage at Covid: Don’t touch anything if you can help it. Now, it’s less severe with the vaccine going out. But my Mom’s still trying to Lysol us whenever we get home.
A note from the writer:
I came to the conclusion that, even though there was a dynamic range of responses, they more or less fell into commonality rather than divergence. The pandemic tested many friendships; some survived, others didn’t. The ones that survived grew to become closer and better friends. The ones that didn’t survive grew to understand that their friendships weren’t meant to last long. Teens missed those “hallway acquaintances” in school that made school seem more normal. Furthermore, the time in the beginning of quarantine created a void where friends should have been, but some teens used that time as time for themselves.
Having more time helped and led some students to a better outcome and understanding of where they are. Having more time created closeness with people, a changing of perspective, a changing of daily routines, an opportunity to grab a chair and listen to music. The pandemic enabled teens to not take things for granted. Teens got closer to family and friends.
Here’s my take: Us teens are verging on the cusp of maturity and responsibility. As we have one foot in childhood and one foot in adulthood, we look to have solid ground around us as we make changes. The pandemic made that firm ground shake. Therefore, the effects may have stunted our growth temporarily. All in all, most of us will pursue the future with renewed excitement for having experienced the pandemic, but only the future will tell.
And even though I didn’t ask about it in any interviews, the obvious effect of online learning is the inability to flirt well. Flirting is much better face-to-face.