A Year In… Student’s story of the pandemic

By Sarah Coleman, Year 12, Sacred Heart Catholic Secondary School

Around this time last year, in my final year of secondary school, we were informed of a lockdown that would last only 3 weeks. ‘Make sure you stay on top of your work,’ ‘complete all exams and assignments on time,’ they said – 4 weeks later and we were still at home.

Unfortunately for me, my laptop stopped working around this time, so for a whole week I had no access to work. One phone call from my Head of Year later, and I was standing in a Sainsbury’s queue for an hour with a mask on to collect a new laptop as the hard reality hit. We would not be returning to school that academic year, maybe not for the whole of 2020, but who knew? Just like that, online lessons began and the workload poured in.

Usually in school, all of the students want to go home, yet it came to a point where we were all longing to be in school. Being at home became boring and lonely to say the least, my biggest fear is of the oblivion yet. I found myself in the heart of the unknown, completely out of the loop. The question hanging above everyone’s head was, ‘Will life ever be normal again?’ Forgetting all the worries of public exams and grading systems, as we knew it could change with the blink of an eye. Some students live in big houses, with a big family, a big garden. Unfortunately, I was stuck in a flat with my mum and older brother with no garden, no pet, and no access to my other siblings or nephew. Stuck. That is how I felt. At first, going for walks gave me something to look forward to, but then it just became dire. Every single day was the same. 

By May, I had finished with school and was informed there would be no prom, and the next time I would see the class of 2020 would be results day. The countdown to results day was not comforting, nor exciting, but terrifying. With the government algorithm being the hottest topic, I didn’t just fear my potential grades, I feared seeing people again, being in school having to interact, not being able to see emotion through a mask. The oblivion was just getting bigger. By results day I just wanted to get in and get out. While coronavirus cases were still rising, we were allowed out. Restaurants, parks, pubs, shops became flooded with people, as if this virus never existed. Results day was not special; the opening up of the world was. 

September came and nobody cared about their results anymore. Sixth-form started, everything was open, and the only big difference was everyone wearing masks, extra sanitation and lining up outside shops. Little did anyone know, a few weeks later we would be right back at square one. This time, however, was ten times worse than the last – it was winter and cold, wet and dark all day. Nobody wanted to go out for walks, everybody wanted to be inside with their family. Yet schools remained open and here I was once again in the heart of the oblivion. When I left for school in the morning it was dark, when I made my way home it was dark, the only people in the streets were students and key workers. We had no place to go for lunch because everywhere was closed. Teachers would be on the computer because they had to shield while we sat in cold classrooms because the windows had to be open so we had adequate ventilation. Not to forget when takeaways, supermarkets and corner shops were restricted to a 10pm curfew because, of course, coronavirus didn’t spread after that time. 

A whole third lockdown later, and here I am, sitting in my school library, around my peers, on a Friday morning, typing up my experience. My school has never been so united while everyone remains so alone. Teachers are working extra hard to go over what we were supposed to have been learning during lockdown, which means extra hours, revision sessions, and more mini assessments, but who knows if that will be enough? The comfort I thought I would find in coming back to school has turned into confusion concerning exams, whether we will go into another lockdown, and wondering if Year 13 will be like Year 11. The last public exams I sat were my SATs in year 6: will I be able to face the true pressure of public exams? Will another strand of coronavirus appear? Will the teachers be able to handle it? Will we get centre-assessed grades or will another algorithm decide our fate? A whole year later and not much has changed – I started in the heart of the oblivion, and here I am, still in the heart of the oblivion.

‘Reading Sarah’s words makes me feel, even more, for all the young people over the course of this past year and how their different experiences have altered them. Knowing Sarah as I do though, she has been a constant force for good in the school over the time that we have been both in school and in lockdown. While she has felt and continues to feel oblivion she should know that, whatever her inner turmoil, her outspoken and confident ‘get things done’ attitude around the school makes a lot of people feel assured and spreads a positive message!’ – Liz Cawley, Teacher, Sacred Heart Catholic Secondary School