I want to start by saying that our community is so strong that even during tough times we still find ways to support and love one another. The fact that you still show up to the African Leadership Group (ALG) virtual programs shows how strong our community really is.
My name is Mariem Dia, I recently continued from eighth grade and will be starting my freshman year of high school in the fall. I am involved with the ALG Youth Empowerment Program created for first- and second-generation immigrant children to have a safe space to share their challenges of school, home, and in their communities. This summer, I am volunteering with ALG to learn and grow as a student as well as a leader.
Considering this was my last year at Murphy Creek P-8 school in Aurora, I would never have thought I would be finishing my middle school years virtually. For me, going to school was about learning with others and being able to share my thoughts or my way of finding answers, and that has always intrigued me. For the idea of going to school to change so abruptly, was something that I had to adjust to, and it definitely wasn’t easy at first.
I can remember the day we were released for spring break. My eighth-grade class was supposed to go on a field trip to visit the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The night before the field trip had been cancelled due to Covid-19, and then uncancelled because we hadn’t gotten any word from the university. So, everybody had come to school expecting to have an amazing field trip to a college, a trip that was to have included free food.
I walked into class and a couple of students had told me that the field trip had been cancelled again. I felt as if they were joking until our principal walked into our classroom and explained to us why the field trip was cancelled and that we would get pizza for lunch and would watch movies for the rest of the day. I was upset because I was really looking forward to the field trip. We went through the rest of the school day watching movies and playing games.
Then, later that day, my mom told us she got an email saying that spring break would be extended for another two weeks due to Covid-19. At first, we were excited to get an extra two weeks off but later that week we got another email saying that school would no longer be in person and virtual classes would start soon.
Online classes begin
We went about three weeks without classes. The first day of online school was a little strange because I woke up at the usual time I did for school which was 6 a.m. I got ready like it was a normal school day. The only difference was not putting shoes on and walking out the door. I went downstairs to the dining room which had now become a classroom, and my sister and I set up our computers. I checked the time, and it was 7 a.m. My first class wasn’t until 7:45 and I had not been assigned work yet. I had breakfast and sat and talked with my sister for about 45 minutes.
I finally joined the class, and nobody showed their faces except the teacher, which felt a bit awkward. She told us about the platform we were going to be using, Edgenuity, that was provided by the district; and the lesson plans she had emailed us before would no longer be used. We also used GoogleMmeet, Google Classroom, Clever, and Google Calendar as other platforms.
I started the work which consisted of watching interactive videos, doing assignments, and taking a ten-question quiz almost every day for every class. I had three classes a day from 7:45 to 10:45 a.m. I started with math from 7:45 to 8:45 a.m. I then had science on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:00 to 9:45 and social studies on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the same time.
My last class was literacy or English which was from 10:00 to 10:45 a.m. Most of the time, my classes would last between 5 and 20 minutes. It took me about an hour per class to get the work done, which was fairly easy. I even tended to be ahead of the class schedule. I usually did Friday’s work on Thursdays so I could have Fridays off.
My schedule was very repetitive and quite boring.
On Fridays, we had Advisory with all the eighth graders. It would start at 10 a.m. and last about an hour. We would talk about high school and share our thoughts and feelings. We also had a drawing where ten people would win a $10 Amazon prize for showing their faces, doing their work, and attending class. They really wanted to see our faces, but it rarely occurred.
Anticipating high school
In one advisory, we had the Vista Peak High School principal and members of the student council visit to answer some questions and share their experiences. The teacher in charge of the student council invited us to visit one of their meetings, I took the opportunity and emailed her right away.
I attended the student council meeting the following Thursday, and I learned that council members plan all the school events, whether charitable or just for fun. It was one of the funniest online meetings I had during this whole experience.
The last week of school had finally come around. In some classes exams were required, while in others they weren’t. However, the platform we were using for assignments had suddenly stopped working. I was unable to take my exams, but my teachers said it wasn’t a big deal because I had all of my other work done and none of this counted toward a grade.
The last week of virtual classes we played lots of online games such as Kahoot, and watched some sports videos. In one class we played Kahoot for an hour which was really fun considering it was our last class. Our teachers offered some last remarks and classes ended on May 19th.
The only thing left now was continuation, which would also be virtual on a platform that was provided to the school. It was sort of like a Facebook Live that you could comment on, but it was pre-recorded. We had some student speakers as well as a keynote speaker.
Our teachers then introduced us through a slideshow with our pictures that had a few words from us on the side. However, mine was not a few words and was longer than everybody else’s. In my paragraph, I spoke about goals in life which consist of becoming an activist as well as a lawyer.
We then heard the superlatives: Who the class votes for as, for example, who’s most likely to… and many other topics. I got voted most likely to become president, even though politics aren’t my thing. But it showed the respect I had gained from my classmates and peers over the past three years.
After that, the winners of the Cherry Hill scholarship were announced. The scholarship was worth a thousand dollars and one of the main aspects of it was community work. I had applied for the scholarship about a week or two before, and I was so nervous about it.
They began to announce the winners, and the minute we heard “Her volunteer work with the African Leadership Group…”, we all began to scream from excitement. Just to know that all my hard work had paid off, made me feel like I was getting somewhere, and with the ALG community by my side, I could succeed.
My education and the education of others is extremely important to me. Although in-person school ended early, the learning continued. I am so grateful that we live in an era where technology is available, because I for one would not have wanted to repeat my eighth-grade year, and I know many students would agree with me on that.
Although it has come to an end in a way that was unexpected, this is definitely a year I will never forget. I know that school in the fall may be different than expected as well, but with my family and community by my side, I know that I can conquer any challenge that I face.
I know that my experience is similar to other children within our community, so my story is our story. My ask of the community is to continue to grow and conquer together, even if it’s virtual. I have faith in our community, and I know the work doesn’t stop here. It will continue no matter what, and no virus can stop our striving to help one another.
So let’s continue as one family and one community.