Without a doubt, the last year has been a difficult one. When asked what words came to mind, students echoed the same sentiment: chaotic, overwhelming, thought-provoking. While going through so much undeniable change and loss, three students reflected on positive changes they have felt.

Senior Ceci Espinosa explained how remote learning has made room for a positive change: more time to work. She now works as a nanny, but previously worked for the Oswegoland Park District.

“When I was in Oswego, I couldn’t spend that much time with a family in Chicago,” Espinosa said. “I had more time to be out there and that’s how I was able to get the nannying job.”

Espinosa shared that being able to work more made her days feel much more productive.

“It’s good to have that schedule and routine,” Espinosa said. “Before that on Wednesdays, we weren’t really doing anything…I felt like it was a waste of a day.”

She explained that she was in it for not just the payday, but the chance to feel less isolated.

“The social interaction, aside from the money, is good for me,” Espinosa said.

With many seniors also feeling the stress of application deadlines, Espinosa appreciated the extra time given during remote learning. 

“Just in general, working on other things like college applications and scholarship applications,” Espinosa said. “With virtual school, you just had more room for that.”

Junior Amanda Stefek found her bright side in a more personalized school experience.

“School was a lot easier this year,” Stefek said. “The teachers are much more organized.”

She explained that she felt the change was due to a decrease in distractions around her.

“I think it’s not having to be around rowdy kids,” Stefek said. “It helps me focus better.”

Stefek shared that one teacher in particular has done an excellent job setting her students up for success despite the distance.

“Definitely Ms. [Alysha] Wodecki,” Stefek said. “She’s super organized.”

For students who feel like this year has been more challenging, Stefek encourages communication.

“If you have questions just ask the teachers because they are super helpful,” Stefek said.

Beyond the classroom, the shutdown caused by COVID-19 provided freshman Hailey Mueller with an opportunity to better understand mental health.

In the early months of the pandemic, Mueller knew something needed to change.

“With COVID-19, I was having a lot of anxiety, like I had never experienced this level of anxiety before,” Mueller said. Through that I realized I should probably start trying to understand where it’s coming from, what it’s about.”

She explained that the rapid changes and lack of social interaction played a large role in her increasing anxiety.

“It was very isolating,” Mueller said.

Mueller was not alone in struggling with mental health over the last year. According to Mental Health America, the amount of people seeking help has skyrocketed since the pandemic began, with numbers up 93% for anxiety and 62% for depression.

“I had to convince myself that it was okay, that other people might be feeling this way too,” Mueller said.

Although she stated it is the hardest part, Mueller encourages those struggling with mental health to communicate with their loved ones.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Mueller said. “That is the biggest stepping stone into figuring it out.”

Looking back, Mueller is proud of the growth she has made and encourages others to embark on the same journey.

“I’m really happy that I had the opportunity to take that deeper dive into understanding how my mind works,” Mueller said.

While the last year has been challenging, the insight from these three students shows that there has in fact been a bright side to the chaos. Looking forward, Espinosa hopes the events of the past year build a sense of togetherness.

“I think something that’s positive is that we all have a unified experience,” Espinosa said. “Even though everyone’s going through things very differently, I think that we will look at this in like 5-10 years, even like 50 years in the future, and we will all have similar experiences.”

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