Reading and Writing Our Way Forward
My name is Elijah Nino, and if I'm honest, 2020 has been quite the experience for me. I mean, I'm sure it's been the experience of a lifetime for everybody, good and bad, but for me, it all just seemed to mesh into a storm of horrid. For example, just a month into 2020, I was dealt the hardest blow I think I may ever face, which was the passing of my grandmother that I loved dearly. It hit me like a truck, that's for sure, and while it may be forever in my thoughts, I learned a lesson from it all, and it's one I may never forget. It stems from something she would always tell me whenever I seemed stumped with grief or an immovable obstacle, and that was still to keep pressing on no matter what because at the end of the day, the world will move and progress with or without you. That lesson, coupled with the hardships ahead of me is what keeps me going and brings me to terms with the life I have ahead and the life I leave behind. But as far as tragic happenings go, this was luckily the only real one I had to deal with last year.
As I said earlier, my grandma's passing away was probably the worst thing that happened to me in 2020, but sadly it certainly was not the last of bad things to come in 2020. To make matters worse, a global pandemic was spreading all over America and specifically New York. It scared me to death, and it was something I've never experienced before. It wasn't so much the fact that a virus was spreading like wildfire, but it was the fact that I'd be in a complete lockdown and isolated from everyone around me. It was a lot to take in at the time, but nowadays, as I type this in the comfort of my home months into the lockdown, I feel at peace and focus on my goals. This wasn't always the case, though, cause, as I said earlier, I was scared for my life when the pandemic first hit in America, and as was everyone else, it was pure silence for the first time in history since Living in Washington Heights
Never before in my life have I ever been in complete silence while there, but when that pandemic hit, all you can hear was a car every few minutes and the birds chirping, all the energy and excitement in the area stripped away within seconds, and I couldn't believe it. With the silence came a steady and constant amount of isolation due to the outbreak's potential spread and ability to spread at the time, but little did we all know that we'd be stuck in a state of isolation for almost a year now with no real signs of it getting better even with the vaccine we have. As for where this plays into my story it left me with a sense of dread and doubt of the future. I lost my way to put it simply and regressed into a slump where nothing was done, not even classwork, and it would have ruined me had I not fixed it up in the final days of the school year. This brings my story full circle and us in 2021: a new president, a working vaccine with minimal side effects, and a fresh start on life ripe with opportunity and progress.
Now while I can't fully say my old habits are all gone, and I'm in a better place, I can say for a fact that I am 100% a better percent than what I was once and am continually trying to move forward no matter the cost. I truly think the only reason I have even slightly changed my view of the world is the isolation of the nationwide pandemic. I can't fully explain it, but it was just all the silence and thinking that I could do while alone. It was cleansing in a way, and it washed my stress away. Nowadays, I spend most of my hours meditating and finding inner peace in Taoism's spirit as it is one of the very few things I believe. To this day, I will always live up to my grandma's words and legacy and push past all my restraints and overcome anything to reach my goals because progress and change will always be inevitable in my world.
This year, 2020 has had a very unusual start—first, the U.S-Iran Conflict, then the unexpected death of the former Lakers star Kobe Bryant and now, the quarantine life during the pandemic of the Coronavirus. I've had to get used to this new lifestyle. A strategy that I've been using to manage this life is putting my schedule in order where I finish my responsibilities on time, and I get free time and breaks throughout the day. Before this pandemic, I had a very well organized and rigid schedule where I went to school and then home. Now, I can do things more flawlessly because I have more than enough time to do my assignments, and I don't have to stress while trying to complete my work under a time frame. I either do my homework in the morning or late at night, depending on how I feel. Sometimes I feel like late at night is the best time for me to complete my work because I can concentrate better and think of new ideas while everyone else is sleeping. Hey, maybe it's me practicing and preparing for late-night college work!
If someone would have told me at the beginning of the year that there was going to be a virus that was going to spread all around the world to such magnitude and cause so much commotion, I would not have believed them. This was completely unexpected, and it caused my plans in preparation for college to make a full 360. No one would have imagined that COVID-19 was going to spread so rapidly and affect so many people.
This new normal and way of life have affected the relationships in my family positively. I've created a well-knit relationship with my parents since the start of the quarantine, and I even started watching a show together with my mother that we both really enjoy. Now, what I mostly talk about with my mother is about that show! The way I've bonded with my father is through video games where we both challenge each other and spend time together. When it comes to video games, I have no patience. However, my dad does. When I am stuck in a game, trying to complete a level, I give my controller to my dad, and he will finish the challenge for me. Surprisingly, I have even formed a great relationship with my sister. Now, we are watching the same show on Netflix! Overall as a family, we've been spending more quality time together. We have been watching lots of movies and playing games. We look out for each other more than before. I don't want to say that this quarantine is the best thing that has happened to me, but it has helped my family become more united than ever. With all this happening, I've also maintained that strong relationship that I have with my friends. I've been checking up on them, asking them how they've been, and how they are dealing with these tough times. Sometimes I play video games with some of my friends. Also, we've helped each other out with our online work. Being stuck at home does not mean that we can't help each other and stay in contact. We have to find a way around things, especially now. What keeps on going through my mind is how quickly things can change in just an instant, so it's important to appreciate and enjoy life and the people around us every chance we get.
Some of the challenges that I am facing is not being able to do things outdoors and that I enjoy. I miss playing baseball and spending quality time with my friends and family, and honestly, the change is what's been the biggest struggle for me. This has been one of the most significant changes I have experienced in my life. At the beginning of all this chaos, I felt that social distancing was alright, and I expected it to end very soon. Now, I am feeling very downhearted because this still hasn't ended, and it has affected what I thought would be an amazing senior year experience, and it didn't turn out that way. As I accept this adversity, I have formed a mentality of taking everything slow and not getting ahead of time. Now that I can see that this won't be ending anytime soon, I've decided to do things at my own pace and let time tell when this will be over.
Years after I graduate and I look back at my high school years, I won't think about how great my four years went because the memories of this pandemic will overflow all of the other ones. I will remember all the effects caused by the virus, including not being able to graduate formally; and that some family relatives passed away due to COVID-19, which made my year worse and more disappointing. Despite what we're going through, I always try to find ways to keep myself and my family positive. However, we have to adapt to any unexpected situation. It's the only way that we can learn how to live so, even though I'm disappointed, we need to keep our heads up and move on.
Dear 8th Graders,
When I walked into your fifth grade classes in September of 2016, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was 23, it was my second year of full time teaching and I was already teaching a full schedule of 6th grade classes in addition to teaching you all. I don’t think I was able to learn everyone’s name until December! There were so many of you and I only saw you once a week! Little did I know that you all, cohesively as a group, would grow to develop a very special place in my heart.
5th graded quickly faded into 6th grade and I got to teach you again. Even then, I could sense a special connection with you. It might seem silly to you all, but my decision to move upstairs and teach 8th grade, and my decision to switch from teaching Social Studies to teaching English in order to do so, was all because of you. Telling you that I was moving up with you at the end of your 6th grade year is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever gotten to do as a teacher.
Now it’s 2020. Many of you grew a literal foot taller before my eyes. While the physical growth is the most obvious to the naked eye, your growth as people exceeds it twofold. Among you are artists, athletes, gamers, leaders, comedians, and some of the most authentic people I have the privilege of knowing. I love all of my students, but I don’t know if I’ll ever again get to see a group through this way and I’m so thankful it was you that I got to grow alongside.
I feel extraordinary grateful to have had the privilege of spending September through March with you in the classroom. I’m thankful to have seen how many of you were so engaged with the storytelling of S.E. Hinton in The Outsiders. I’m thankful for how much I have seen each and every one of you improve in your writing (in a way that I know will make you more prepared for high school). I’m thankful for how many of you I’ve seen become activists and advocates for change on social media. But, even more, I’m thankful for the small moments: For laughs. For conversations about your lives. For lunches out with groups of you. For every time one of you stole my camera and snapped a selfie or took a funny video. For long days after school helping you with your science fair projects. (And for even longer ones when we pretended to work on science fair projects or quiz revisions, but really just hung out and talked). Even for the time a certain student “accidentally” locked another certain someone in the closet during advisory. (Thank god we got him out before he peed in there). When I think of you all, these are the moments that come to mind, and no virus or shelter in place order can take those away from us.
This is not at all how I pictured the end of our four years together going, and I’m so very sorry about that. Just know that I’m here. I’ll always be your teacher, even if you’re no longer students sitting in my classroom. I’ll be your teacher when you feel alone in this time of social distancing. I’ll be your teacher when you're transitioning to the new world of high school this September (a transition that can, and should, still be very exciting for you). I’ll be your teacher in four years from now when you’re applying to college. And I’ll even be your teacher years after that when you’re starting careers and families. You know where to find me.
Black Lives Matter by Anthony Santana
I am writing to tell you that your life matters very much to me. With everything going on in the world, I want to make clear that Black Lives Matter. Our lives matter. The reason your life matters is because you brought me into this world and carry me through it everyday. You've taught me everything I know. You work so hard to pay the bills and put clothes on my back. You're always there when I am sick or hurt. Even when I cause you trouble, you stick by my side and continue teaching me how to be better.
You push me to see myself beyond the hood. You have dreams for me and I want to make you proud. You've taught me that everything has to be earned through hard work. There's no hand-outs. You've been both a mother and a father to me for my entire life. To honor you, I will go to college and be the successful young man that you want me to be. I will accomplish all the dreams that were out of your reach. I will be the future. I will make it somewhere in life. It will all be because of you. No matter what anyone says, your life matters so much. I love you, mom.
In celebration of African-American literary traditions, Ms. Porter narrates The People Could Fly, written by Virginia Hamilton. It's a beautiful story of resilience and freedom-seeking. The kids are so lucky to have such a masterful storyteller!
Quarantine life is not something for which you can really plan. Eventually, you will be consumed with the madness of losing track of time. You could even forget a meal or two if you are not careful. Our generation is not equipped to handle this; we are the most social generation after all… that does not sound correct. Let me rephrase, we are the most social… It just does not fit, does it? The words "most" and "social" when talking about our generation. Yes, we talk to each other, and we could make friendships with people from different cultures, but it's not like we are comfortable hanging out in person or doing anything spontaneous in real life. For us, it is easier to stay inside and use our screens to either hide some parts of ourselves or get lost in other people's worlds entirely.
I suppose quarantine life hasn't been the worst. For me, at least, it's been alright. I'm coping with being alone and in my head for long periods. But then again, I always have my trusty phone at my disposal. I got a new phone recently, and it has only improved in its ability to transport me elsewhere while physically confined. I have diversified my music taste, communicate more with friends, and spend a lot of time playing games. I also have Netflix, what a wonderful invention that was. I've been binging on shows that I never thought I'd find time to check out. I started running, too, but that's a horrible experience that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I'll keep doing it, though, so that I can keep from turning into a slob.
Though I know many of my friends don't feel the same way, I'm doing alright. The only thing missing is PS4. Talking to my boys would make my life better. I do miss that. But I am a weird person. I don't like being around people all that much. I hate actual phone conversations. Text messaging is preferable.
I've been playing this survival horror game called "The Forest," and it's been helping me deal with the terrifying stuff in my life. There are cannibals, children to protect, new threats at every corner. Getting scared of something in the game distracts me from my actual fear of the future. The adrenaline is also a great feeling, and there is a better feeling than making it out alive. Besides immersing myself in alternate worlds, I've been thinking a lot about adulthood and the future. I've been wondering what it'll be like to live alone. I was initially terrified by this new reality, but I'm getting more comfortable with it as time goes on. I'll make sure to write about the experience when it happens, start keeping a journal or something. I think I"ll survive. Sure, I won't be fighting cannibals, but I'll be surviving adulthood. Even if it's not a life and death situation, it sometimes feels like it. Even though the thought may be terrifying at first, the idea of beginning this solo adventure also fills me with excitement. I'll keep you posted.
Since leaving school due to the pandemic, it seems that our society has become more torn apart than ever before. I often wonder if social progress will ever catch up to our technological advancements. We are no doubt a very advanced country, but sometimes our social tensions reveal how much we still have to work on. Just a couple of weeks ago, we were scared of this unprecedented virus called COVID-19, and now the news cycle is saturated with images of violence, fear, and chaos.
Like many others, the virus eventually affected those around me, and it became not that strange thing but something that intimately changed everything around me. With one major social issue still looming, now the next headline is "RACISM IN AMERICA." I'm not suggesting that these headlines are untrue, but I'm wondering what will be the longterm consequence of depressing headlines and anxiety-inducing news segments. I've been thinking a lot about the ethics of journalism in light of everything going on. I can't help but feel that the media as a whole has spiraled into endless negativity. Just as racism divides and breeds mistrust, the media asks viewers to pick a side and start arguing with the others. This lack of journalistic integrity is evident in the scarcity of news pieces regarding people coming together to clean up after the rioting. Instead, they rather focus on the fighting amongst the people and police- as it draws more attention. Rather than bringing people together, the media has incited a mob mentality and false perception over what is socially acceptable.
As a young person preparing for my freshman year of college, I'm trying very hard to find the silver lining amongst all this chaos. How are we to come together to find solutions if we fear one another? Is it through the burning and looting of stores and homes to display one's resentment towards a corrupt system? Is it through the use of unnecessary force against unarmed people? The continued suffering of those who fear violence from the police? I honestly don't know what it will take to reach a peaceful outcome, but I know that whatever is going on now will not get us there. It’s time for the media to take responsibility for instigating violence and sensationalizing stories during a time that’s already hard enough for most people. We need different stories. We need to hear about the good that’s happening. Show more of the good stuff.
#LetterToMyTeachers by Raldy Reyes, 8th Grade
On my first day of school I felt very welcomed by the principal and all other staff, but mostly the principal. She gave me a senior sweater and she even let me play basketball. I am really thankful for the principal, she gave me a warm welcome to the school, making me feel like I never wanted to go back to my old school.
I came to the school at the end of January 2020 and I remember that Ms. Orquídea helped my mom in the process and my mom was crying. She told her that I was going to be ok: "Yes, mom, I am more than ok, I am super."
Thanks to all teachers and thanks for all your support and understanding. I miss having the opportunity to be on the basketball team and to be able to have friends there. While being homeschooled, I feel more quiet, doing things on my own pace, but I miss socializing with others at school.
I am so thankful with for school's process during my transition because coming to Inwood Academy, especially in the middle of the year, was like finding a light at the end of a tunnel. Thank you so much for accepting me and for letting me be, my grades are good, my behavior is good. I was so frustrated where I came from and you can’t believe how much you guys made a difference on me just how the way you believed in me. Thank you teachers!
I really want to thank all my family for all their support, but especially mom and dad they have gave us all needed and more. To all inwood families please stay strong and stay safe. #priceless #family #Inwood #thankyou
#LetterToMyTeachers by Ryan Reyes, 5th Grade
Once I came in school, the first day I felt nervous and welcomed by my teacher. I am thankful for the crossing guards who helped me every day to cross the streets and Mrs. Tatiana for helping me and my mom. I am full of gratitude.
I do not feel so good being homeschooled, I miss my friends and teachers . My expectations coming to school is to be safe and to join the basketball team. My plans during this quarantine is to help my mom on her YouTube channel and to continue helping in the community with her and my grandmother. In a world where you can be anything be kind. I hope to see you soon. I miss you all.
America has long advertised its commitment to freedom and liberty. We call this place the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” We should certainly be proud of our history of welcoming immigrants and freedom of expression. But as the country erupts with riots over police brutality and stories from many deprived of liberty, we should take a second to ask ourselves some questions. Who gets this freedom? What justifies taking it away? Some have the freedom to breathe, and others of us have to hold our breaths. We are seen as the enemy. Many of us live in fear of those sworn in to protect and serve. Cops are no longer seen as heroes but as threats to those of us who many seem suspicious for something like a hoodie. There's something deeply wrong with this.