Excerpt:

Despite all that has happened this year, I am still extremely relieved and grateful for having my loved ones by my side. The virus may have taken away many things from many people, but I thank God for the fact that my family, friends and the bonds I have with them have remained stronger than COVID could ever be. Since the pandemic hit, I have come to a realization that I need to try to maintain ties with the people I know, and I am sure my classmates feel the same way. We can no longer hang out at the cafeteria during break, so we use big group chats on Instagram and Snapchat to interact with each other. Gathering around a desk in order to figure out the answer to a question is no longer possible, so Discord servers are used for the same purpose. There is a bit of change in the way we conduct our affairs, but continuity is what we aim to do. The circumstances keep challenging us, but we continue to adapt. 

***

Finkelstein comments: I met Rasouli when he was seven years old while I was speaking in Canada. It was obvious he was a very smart boy. He just recently reconnected with me. I asked him to write something about Covid. Here’s his response:

Prior to the Spring Break of 2020, eleventh grade me was having a great year. My newest article was well received, my grades were good and my social life was running smoothly. I could not foresee anything coming to break my stride, but I forgot that life’s number one rule is to expect the unexpected. A mysterious virus had conquered the world in a way that no empire had ever done; Oakville, Ontario, Canada was one of many victims. A cancellation of school was announced on Friday, March the 13th. Four days later, the Provincial government announced a State of Emergency. Just like that, three months of life had withered away.

One month later, the school board hastily put together a remote learning plan, and sent children back to “school.” The catch was that grades prior to March 13th could not go down from that point on, which led the vast majority of pupils to simply abandon their schoolwork. Asides from the new rule, motivation to work was low due to the prevailing situation, and the fun, interactive and social aspects of school were all but gone. I struggle to recall most of my schoolwork from this time, as the sheer gloom of this era has led it to the dustbin of most people’s memories. 

As Ontario slowly recovered from the pandemic, school had to come back. The Ministry of Education devised a complicated plan that sought to provide good education while keeping students safe.

Another saying to keep in mind is “there is always a light at the end of the tunnel”, and as the weather in June got better, so did our situation. Restrictions were getting lifted, and slowly but surely, bits and pieces of our previous life were coming back. “Life must go on” our community agreed, and so the school board devised a plan to make sure we were back in school next September. A balance was needed between safety and stability, education and protection. After much deliberation, our schedule was flipped upside down. Massive changes were made that shocked the Class of 2021. After all, this was the year of shock. The changes were as follows

  • We usually have two semesters in a school year with four classes in each semester. This year, we were introduced to the quadmester, where we have two classes a day. The length of the day was one of the few things that stayed the same, as we began at 8:30 and were dismissed at 2:45.
  • Before the Big C came to town, our classes were one hour and fifteen minutes long. Just enough time to get in a good amount of learning and make sure we did not die of boredom at the same time. However, the bizarre quadmester had to be taken into account, so our morning class lasts three hours, while the afternoon class lasts for two hours. A whopping fifteen minutes were added to our one hour recess. Not the most effective change, but a welcome one.
  • The student body was split up into Cohort A and B. What I will say next may give you a migraine, so apologies in advance. On Monday and Tuesday, Cohort A goes to school in the first period, and goes home during break, as the second period is always online. Contralily, Cohort B stays home for that whole day, but they do attend first period in school  on Thursday and Friday in person. Whoever goes to school on Wednesday alternates every week.
  • The school environment is very different. Desks are separated, masks must be worn at all times, no field trips, no sports, and no in person extracurriculars. All necessary yet depressing measures. This has proven to be a great approach, though. Inevitably, students have contracted COVID-19 from outside sources, but the school’s distancing measures and notification system has made sure that there has been a minute number of cases. Out of a student population of 1502, only four cases have been recorded, three of which have been external transmissions. This translates to a positivity rate of 0.0038 percent, far lower than the 0.0213% positivity rate in that area of the city.

Mandated mask wearing for staff and students alike is just one of many changes being made as schools across Ontario work to prevent outbreaks.

Although a generally negative situation, there are definitely a few positives to this new system on a personal and academic scale. For one, I am going to university next year, and the brutally long lengths of classes may benefit me in the long term. Data taken from the UCLA registrar shows that the average lecture is 100.68 minutes long. The class with the highest average lecture time was Art with 216.86 minutes, while “Program in Computing” clocked in at a mere 50. Given this, the loooong classes that I am taking now may mean that I am adequately, if not more than prepared to pay attention and take notes at university lectures. Furthermore, classes that once took a little more than 20 weeks to teach must now be completed in nine. The high intensity of such a system eases the challenge that a school like The University of Toronto may pose. Whilst it is unlikely that these were the intended consequences of these changes, they may serve to the benefit of the class of 2021.

The negative aspect here is that in the short term, the new structure puts immense pressure on students. To demonstrate this, I will explain how my first class of the year, Data Management, went. It was okay difficulty wise; the course was tough to the point that you could not possibly do well without a decent amount of effort, but easy enough that with an adequate amount of effort, it could be understood quite well. Nevertheless, the new schedule really put a weight on our shoulders. The fact that the course was essentially speed chess meant that there were virtually no days where one was free of homework or studying. I remember finishing my first unit test, where stress had dominated the affair, but a grand sense of relief occurred within me the second I handed it in. That was on a Friday, and I had the weekend to relax. On Monday we began Unit Two, and we got homework .“Not bad”, I thought. Based on previous years, I had not expected another unit test for at least a fortnight. Maybe a small quiz along the way, but that never hurt anyone. Two days later, my teacher announced another unit test on Friday. Regularly, we would never have big evaluations in such quick succession, but I had two days to study, and I had to take advantage of them. This happened frequently, and the class became nerve-racking. 

Then, we got to the end of the course. In Canada, 70% of our final grade is determined by tests and assignments during the course, 20% by a culminating task and 10% by the final exam. Typically, we have the culminating task first, and then get a few days to study for the exam. The summative is basically a massive project. Due to this, I spent countless hours preparing my project, which ended up being fairly good. I was proud of how the project turned out and satisfaction overcame me. This was until I realized that the exam was the very next day! To my teacher’s credit, she had made it smaller than it is most years, but still, an exam is an exam. I sat down for two hours and tried to review the course content, but absolutely nothing entered my head. It dawned upon me that I was simply exhausted from all the work, and this  new system is too much to keep up with. It occurred to me that I needed to do something, for my exam was only a few hours away, so i made the sensible and responsible choice. I went downstairs and watched a Mafia film with my father. In my defence, I really tried to study, but I reasonably concluded that my brain had overdosed on schoolwork. Also, I decided to take Don Vito Corleone’s advice : “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

This brings me to my next point. Despite all that has happened this year, I am still extremely relieved and grateful for having my loved ones by my side. The virus may have taken away many things from many people, but I thank God for the fact that my family, friends and the bonds I have with them have remained stronger than COVID could ever be. Since the pandemic hit, I have come to a realization that I need to try to maintain ties with the people I know, and I am sure my classmates feel the same way. We can no longer hang out at the cafeteria during break, so we use big group chats on Instagram and Snapchat to interact with each other. Gathering around a desk in order to figure out the answer to a question is no longer possible, so Discord servers are used for the same purpose. There is a bit of change in the way we conduct our affairs, but continuity in what we aim to do. The circumstances keep challenging us, but we continue to adapt. 

Currently, I am in the last month of my second quadmester, and the last month of the quadmester is usually the most difficult. I am swamped with work, but I am content with my situation. I am confident that I will be better prepared for more difficult tasks in the future, and have observed that the situation could be worse. Moreover, I used to be an optimist, but after last year’s events, I discovered that this approach set me up for disappointment. Instead, I am adopting a “go with the flow” mentality. Some factors are simply out of my control, so getting frustrated about them is fruitless. It is healthier to learn from what comes in my path, as well as to make the most of what I have. However, I am hopeful of one thing, and that is a proper graduation ceremony. In addition to being the ceremony that celebrates the end of High School and the beginning of University, I would like it to be the ceremony of the end of social distance and fear, and the rebirth of love and embracing one another. I want to see my friends on the stage, not the Google Classroom. Most importantly, I hope my parents get to watch me go up there while sitting in front of said stage, not at home behind a computer screen. Regardless of whether this becomes the case, I have one thing to celebrate, and it is health and safety. I pray that everyone, whether they are in Grade 12 or not, has a 2021 worth celebrating.