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High school life carries on, even during the pandemic. Lessly Gomez, left, works on her computer at home while Jordan King, right, puts her new driver’s license to use.

Manuel Martinez, Courtesy of Jordan King

Different Pandemic Experiences Can Change A Student’s Academic Course

Jordan King has her bedroom setup just the way she likes it. Her desk is neatly organized under her loft bed. For a change of scenery, she can move over to a pair of comfy chairs she set up for a reading area.

“My room is in the basement so it’s really nice,” the 16-year-old said. “It’s kind of away from everybody. So that’s also what I like about it.”

Jordan is the type of high school student who loved putting together a stylish outfit for school. These days, the outgoing junior is sporting sweats and slippers as she logs in to her remote classes.

Unlike a lot of other teens, the Naperville North High School student actually enjoys remote learning.

“It’s so much easier to balance my schedule and put things where they belong and make time for things that I know are top priority,” Jordan said.

Teens are experiencing the pandemic in different ways that could have an impact on their academics. Some are finding it hard to stay motivated. Others like Jordan are thriving.

“I honestly can’t believe I got through all of it,” she said reflecting on the semester. “I don’t know how. I never imagined doing anything like this. So I’m really proud of myself for adapting.”

Junior year is often seen as a crucial time in high school when grades really matter for college applications, and the pandemic is changing how students manage school. Jordan is a social person who enjoys school dances, but she’s preferred being at home. Many teens have found it isolating, like Lessly Gomez. WBEZ has been following both high school juniors during a fall of remote learning.

Lessly is an introvert who wasn’t interested in school dances or sports before. Now, she’s craving to be back at school.

“I miss going to school and everything because obviously, I got to see people everyday,” she said. “I got to actually talk to people, even people I didn’t like.”

The Zion-Benton Township High School junior thinks she might even go to homecoming or prom, once it’s safe.

Lessly is close to her family. These days she spends her free time painting or watching the Harry Potter movie series with her younger sister.

Remote learning has been hard for Lessly. She used to stay on top of her work during in-person school. If she got distracted, her teachers could walk up to her desk and call her out.

“But with online, they don’t expect us to have our camera on,” Lessly said. “They can’t see what we’re doing. And since I’m in my room, and I lay on my bed sometimes, they can’t see if I’m sleeping or on my phone.”

Lessly said her grades have suffered. She thinks not having cameras on is a central problem. Unlike at Jordan’s school where it’s required, at Lessly’s school it’s not mandated because the school says it could invade a student’s privacy. But it would be awkward for Lessly to be one of a few kids visible on a screen of black tiles.

“I feel like if they were to tell us to have our cameras on, probably everyone would be paying attention in class,” she said. “I feel like everyone would do at least a little bit better.”

Lessly’s starting to think about April, when she’ll take the SAT. It worries her a little since she missed the practice exam this fall because of a scheduling miscommunication with her school. She’s not sure where to start with preparation.

Lessly’s school is underfunded by state standards. But generally, Lessly thinks the district has done an OK job with remote learning. She does however wonder if things would be different somewhere else.

Jordan’s Naperville school is very well funded, and there are tons of online resources to support her remote learning. She thinks that has played a part in how well she’s been doing. She’s also already mapped out a plan for studying for the SAT over winter break.

Now that the fall is nearly over, both are looking ahead to next semester and hoping to get back more pieces of normal life. Lessly has some ideas for doing things differently.

“I should probably hide my phone somewhere while I’m in class, at least. So I won’t really get distracted,” she said.

Jordan thinks the pandemic has changed this generation of students, and she’s personally learned a lot.

“My major takeaway is patience and just putting others before myself,” she said.

There is no certainty with next semester on the big issues: if and when in-person classes will begin; how they’ll take the SATs. But Jordan said she’ll carry the lessons of the pandemic with her to college and everything that comes after.

Susie An covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @soosieon.

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