A Community in Crisis

A Community in Crisis by Sarah Cohen - Photo by Molly Voit

We are living in a scary time right now. A time of vast uncertainty and fear. A time where we as a global community do not know what is coming next. We are starving for the grim COVID-19 daily reports of who died or how many cases have been found. For myself and many of my high school peers, this is not the first time this year that we are living in this state of uncertainty.

A few weeks into my sophomore year, my principal sat us all down and let us know that our school district would not be renewing the lease on what was our current building the following year. They had also decided that we would be sharing a building with another school with a similar number of students but twice the space. This news came as a shock to many of us. We were leaving the building that we knew, our place of learning, our quirky old building filled with quirky, nerdy kids. We were sad to see it go even though it was in great disrepair.

Shortly after the announcement, a student committee was formed to help the contractors design our new space. The opportunity for student involvement gave us some hope and excitement. We heard that we would have lots of student space and a roof terrace where students could spend time when the weather was warm enough. We were excited to yet again have space that was our own, space where we could learn.

Hope for our new and improved building came to a crashing halt a few days before the school year was supposed to start. Our principal emailed us to let us know that the building we were supposed to move into was not finished enough for students and staff to move into. For the next few days, we were all on the edges of our seats, waiting to see whether or not we would be starting school. The confirmation email came that Thursday night, three days after what was supposed to be the first day of school. We walked into an unfinished building. The entrance—what was supposed to be the “student lounge”—was nowhere close to finished. Instead, it was replaced by wood and scaffolding. This was not the only unfinished portion; half of the classrooms were not completed either, and the whole building was covered in dust and debris.

As a community, we decided that we would adjust to it, and the building would be completed eventually. We lived with this mindset until we learned that the building needed to be tested for asbestos, a chemical that lives in the walls of some old buildings. It is harmless when left undisturbed, but can cause cancer when it is exposed to the air. To do this, the building had to be closed. Yet again, we were left sitting on the edges of our seats wondering when we would be allowed back in, when our lives would be back to normal.

Fortunately, only a very small amount of asbestos was found, but this did act as a wake-up call to the school district, that students should not be going to school in an active construction site. So they closed the school to students. When they did this, they did not have many options for where to put us. Yet again, we were left hanging on the edges of our seats, wondering when we would be able to go back to school.

This wait ended up being around five weeks; well, five weeks until we were in a temporary space. For juniors, this meant spending a large portion of our time in a synagogue basement with spotty WiFi and low lighting. We were expected to work with this until we could go back to our building after winter break. Then, we were thrown another curveball, we were told that our building was not going to be ready by that time, so instead of renting out the synagogue for any longer, they chose to renovate some rooms in the district building where the rest of our schoolmates were housed. These rooms were not ideal either, they were small, hot, and constantly smelled of body odor. The mantra throughout this whole experience was that we were a strong community and we could get through this together. Happily, the day after Presidents’ Day, we were back in our building. It looked great, it was modern and polished. We were all excited and relieved to be back in our space. From all this, I learned that if you are strong and resilient you can get through almost anything. I know that this sounds cliche, but it’s true. Life will throw many curveballs at you, and you will dodge many of them, and survive the outcomes of the ones that hit.

The lessons that I learned from this experience can also be used to combat the global pandemic that we are living in now. We as a global community are sitting on the edges of our seats, waiting to see when our lives will be normal again. We are told to stay inside and keep our distance. We as a community have to find the silver lining. We are learning to be strong and to maintain hope. In this scary time, it is important to remember that it can’t and won’t last forever. The best thing for us to do is to stay strong and stay connected. You are not alone. We can do this, we will see this to the end. Five, even 10 years from now we will be able to talk about how we survived the global pandemic, an event that will be written about in the history books.

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