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A dispatch from a new school year during the COVID-19 pandemic

 

It’s been over seven months since college campuses began closing, students transitioned to online classes, and face masks became a public health necessity. In the meantime, life has continued to move forward in some ways despite the challenging environment. The Class of 2020 graduated from high school and college at the end of spring. Summer programs and internships offered their first-ever fully virtual opportunities. This fall, students and educators returned to school, whether online or in socially distanced classrooms.

During the summer, we heard from LEDA Scholars who talked about some of the new challenges posed by a pandemic-induced remote learning model and shared tips on how to get the most out of the experience. Some of them, like Jesus, Muskan, and Rachel, emphasized the usefulness of using a dedicated schedule or planner to maintain focus on deadlines and provide structure. Others, like Ahmed and Chris, reminded us to also pay attention to physical wellness, such as standing up to stretch after a long Zoom session and getting enough sleep.

Going into a new school year, students were now well-versed in attending online classes and how to navigate the workflow, but many issues have persisted. Even before the pandemic, we knew that 17% of students in the U.S. don’t have access to a computer at home and 18% don’t have Internet access. Additional research found that Black, Latinx, immigrant, rural, and low-income households are more likely to lack stable Internet access – or any access – at home. These factors continue to present obstacles for many students throughout the nation, including LEDA Scholars, as they pursue their educational goals.

Under-resourced communities can also face more fundamental concerns. “It sounds so simple, but FLI [first-generation, low-income] people need their basic needs secured in order to be successful students,” said Karim. He cited housing security, food security, and physical security as key areas that family, friends, schools, organizations, government agencies, and anyone else dedicated to empowering FLI students can help to bolster.

Unsurprisingly, the young leaders that comprise the LEDA Community are doing their best to maintain a positive outlook. Cam My wants to ensure that she stays on top of her grades and in touch with her friends, but she believes that a remote semester was “the most responsible thing for my school to do because of the risks involved with having everyone back on campus.”

Mid-semester RecapTop row: Karim and Cam My; bottom row: Panisara and Kennedy

In addition, Scholars understand that LEDA and our community are well-prepared to offer the extra motivation they need during a challenging time. “I know that a lot of my peers are working jobs to help out their parents while simultaneously working hard on school and college applications,” said Panisara. “By just being there for us and providing an outlet for us to talk or let our emotions out, LEDA and other organizations would be doing a lot for us during this time of uncertainty.” Kennedy echoed the sentiment: “LEDA has given me a sense of normalcy and consistency at a time when that can seem so rare.”

We’ll continue to share our Scholars’ experiences throughout the fall and identify both common themes and unique details that give the LEDA Community its strength and diversity. Stay tuned for more in the upcoming weeks on our “new normal.”

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