Monday, December 06, 2021

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For Staples Students, An Unprecedented Challenge

By Jarret Liotta

Though they’re all being forced to literally live separate lives, the junior class of Staples High School is likewise sharing a life-changing experience, coming of age in a uniquely different world.

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Adam Kane, 16, a Staples junior, is coping well, enjoying time with his family, but really misses direct social action. Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

“It’s definitely been unique,” said Adam Kane, 16, who’s seen the plug pulled on his social and athletic activities and, like his classmates, is learning to make due with a range of changes.

At first it seemed like it was going to be a fun, short-lived experience that began with the closing of Westport schools last month, he said.

“Kids were so excited,” Adam said, at first expecting a sort of out-and-out vacation, replete with lots of good times together.

Then reality kicked in.

“This is not like spring break,” he said. “This is not like summer.”

“It’s just kind of weird because I feel like it’s been going on a lot longer than any of us predicted,” said Carrie Everett, 17, who like most in the class of ’21 is keeping very close to home.

“It’s hard,” she said, noting they can still have conversations with friends, but can’t really do anything social.

“All my social interactions feel kind of bare,” she said.

And while it’s “better than nothing at all” to make use of FaceTime on her phone or the Zoom computer application, actually being with friends — one of the necessities of the teen years for most young people — has become either an impossibility or a somewhat awkward half-measure.

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Carrie Everett, 17, a Staples junior, has found time to do some activities she’s wanted to try for a long time, including songwriting. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

“It’s just kind of impractical to walk on opposite sides of the street and yell at each other,” Carrie said.

“So much has changed,” said Taha Banatwal, 17, who has found himself observing a range of philosophical and sociopolitical ramifications relating to humankind and its future.

“I’ve seen people fight over toilet paper,” he said, noting that certain formalities and masks have gone down, with people — in some cases — behaving like they never would have before the COVID-19 crisis.

“It’s a very interesting place we’re in right now,” he said, pondering the implications, particularly if quarantine measures continue or are reimposed.

“That’s something interesting to consider,” noted Taha. “What will the government do and will it infringe on our rights eventually?”

Time to think abets time to worry as well, and it’s not uncommon for anyone these days, particularly young people who are not sure what to believe, to have anxiety.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of rumors,” said Chloe Chaple, 16, “which is a really hard thing to deal with.”

In particular, she and others can’t be sure what summer may look like, let alone if the isolative measures won’t be stretched as far forward as 2022.

“I don’t think we’re going back to school this year and if that’s the case I don’t think we’re going to get a summer out of quarantine,” she said, pining for the close ties she has with camp friends she won’t be seeing as well.

“I video call a lot,” she said. “I’ve been Zooming all my camp friends and FaceTiming all my friends.”

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Staples junior Taha Banatwal, 17, continues to find the socio-political ramifications of the COVID-19 crisis fascinating.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

Along with new social practices, young people have also been adjusting to an entirely new school operation, where the bugs continue to be worked out.

“It’s all a big learning curve and I think that all of us are just getting used to it,” Adam said. “I know there are some teachers who are still trying to figure out an effective way to work with us and get work to us.”

While he’s finding it manageable — the workload actually less than he’s had overall in the past — he said many of his friends have reported there’s been much more than the prescribed four hours.

“There are kids who are getting really overloaded,” he said, noting a lack of coordination between teachers.

He and others said, however, that with the new scheduling — four classes taking place one day, then the other four the next day — things have improved, though issues remain.

“Originally it was just a free-for-all,” Adam said, with teachers just assigning work to keep the students busy.

“Originally it was really bad,” Carrie said, before the schedule change.

“I prefer it for now, but I wouldn’t want to do it forever,” she said. “I feel like I’m missing out on the enrichment … and it’s a lot of self-teaching,” making it more difficult based on one’s ability to self-motivate.

“You’re being given a lot more freedom and latitude in what you want to do,” Taha said, which at least for him has made school less stressful over all.

“It sort of give you more time to process what happens,” he said.

When these teenagers aren’t students, they’re filling their time with a range of activities — some of which they might not otherwise be doing, others of which they’ve always done and now have a lot more time for.

“I haven’t had a chance to read in a while,” Taha said. “I’ve read a couple of books.”

“Obviously there’s the classics, (like) just watching a lot of Netflix,” he said, noting that the most popular viewing this season seems to be “Tiger King.”

“That show is the weirdest thing ever,” he said.

“It’s kind of hard to be super-productive, because we have so much free time I kind of don’t know what to do with it,” said Carrie, who has likewise been reading more, playing music and has even finally sat down and written a song.

“I’ve been running a lot more … It does feel good to get out of the house,” Chloe said, even occasionally.

“I snack a lot more,” she said, “which is bad.”

“What I want to do is go out and see friends,” Adam said, “and go out and meet them and stuff, and I can’t do that.”

“It’s pretty redundant,” he said. “Not much going on … I think most kids are really, really hoping that the summer will open up.”

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