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High School Students Share Their Thoughts On The Upcoming School Year


While political leaders and school officials debate what education will look like this fall, many students are in limbo. So we asked three high schoolers to share their thoughts on the school year that's about to begin.

LONDON JONES: I'm kind of excited but kind of nervous.

SHAPIRO: That's London Jones. He'll be a junior at Anacostia High School here in Washington, D.C.

MERARYS POPA: I kind of don't want to go back to school mostly because I'm immunocompromised, and I don't want to risk catching coronavirus. And my school is way too big for social distancing to even be happening.

SHAPIRO: That's Merarys Popa. She'll be a senior at Cass Tech, a large public high school in Detroit.

CARMEN LOPEZ VILLAMIL: I just don't think that there's a way that we'll go back that's safe and allow us to actually learn.

SHAPIRO: And that's Carmen Lopez Villamil. She'll be a senior at The Beacon School in New York City. They joined us on a video chat, of course, and I asked if they even feel like district leaders or policymakers are listening to students' concerns.

JONES: No, I don't. I feel like they're asking the parents what they want for their child, but they're not considering what we want.

SHAPIRO: Merarys?

POPA: I know a lot of people in, like, other states as well that are going to be starting school, and that's not their ideal choice to be doing. So I feel like students should be able to have a voice.

SHAPIRO: Carmen?

LOPEZ VILLAMIL: What I really like about what she's saying is that I don't think that youth or, like, me and my friends aren't talking about what we want because we just feel like we don't have a platform or a say in this. I think what London said is completely true. Like, they're asking the parent, and there's a space for parents to have a voice in this process. But, like, students were never taken into account. So, like, we're not even bothering to speak up about it.

SHAPIRO: And so if someone did ask, what would you tell the politicians and the policymakers?

LOPEZ VILLAMIL: For me, I think it has to be kind of a matter of equity. Like, we have to make sure that everyone has the resources to learn in a way that they feel safe and comfortable and supported doing. This is a crazy idea. But I was thinking that ideally, there could be a program where, instead of taking all of your classes remotely, you did, like, an internship for the semester. So instead of having to sit through all of these lessons or just have to do stuff on your own or even having to go into class and move in between classrooms, which seems really unsafe, like, you could have one internship where you genuinely learn skills and get to spend time with, like, one group of people.

SHAPIRO: Merarys?

POPA: Students should be able to get the choice if they want to go back to school, like, be able to choose between doing virtual school or going back to school 'cause I know a lot of people wouldn't return back to school. And those who want to do it virtually should have the option and also the resources to do it virtually.

LOPEZ VILLAMIL: Yeah. And maybe even more specifically, like, if we are going to do remote learning, I think some basics are that, like, teachers have to do live classes so that you actually interact with them and that everything should be on one platform so that you're not, like, a mess trying to figure out how to do everything on different platforms. Like, that was me this spring. I just kind of lost track of everything that was happening.

SHAPIRO: Did anything surprise you about what did or did not work as school went virtual in the spring?

JONES: Sometimes reaching out to my teachers personally - it was kind of difficult because they had our Instagrams and things of that nature. Every time I would ask them a question, it would take them very long to reply. And by that time, I already completed the assignment.

LOPEZ VILLAMIL: Wait. London, your teachers had your Instagram?

JONES: Yeah. They followed all of us. And they would just, like, post assignments and things just like that.

LOPEZ VILLAMIL: That's crazy.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

POPA: You guys didn't use Zoom or, like, Microsoft Teams?

JONES: In D.C., we were using Microsoft Teams.

LOPEZ VILLAMIL: I hate Microsoft Teams.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) I know you have a lot of different hopes for what the next school year brings, but what's your highest priority? Like, what do you want the most, Merarys?

POPA: I want to be able to graduate, like, be able to cross the stage. I don't know how possible that'll be, but I sincerely want to be able to cross the stage by the end of my senior year.

SHAPIRO: What does that mean to you - walking across the stage - beyond just getting a diploma?

POPA: If it's possible, I'd like to have an actual graduation ceremony. I feel like that's what most students look up to once they're in high school. And it was kind of sad seeing how class of 2020 wasn't able to have that experience. And it might sound, like, a little selfish of me, but I honestly would like to experience that.

SHAPIRO: London? Carmen?

JONES: My biggest wish is that I learn and retain the things that I'm being taught because I know for me personally, virtual learning is very hard to, like, keep and retain all this information. I would just hope that I get the education.

SHAPIRO: Carmen?

LOPEZ VILLAMIL: Like, I just want to go back to school. I want to, like, take the subway and then walk into my building and sit through classes. Like, I enjoyed that so much. And if my last time doing that was in March, that would just be - like, it's such an anticlimactic ending to being a student in New York City, which I've enjoyed so much.

SHAPIRO: Your school is actually in Times Square, right?

LOPEZ VILLAMIL: Yeah, which means that it's almost impossible because as soon as we get there, like, there's going to be a huge wave of infections and tourists. And it's sort of impossible, but I miss that.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. I know you're both seniors, Carmen and Merarys. And so as you think about college and what comes next, how has this pandemic reshaped that?

POPA: It's really slowed us down. I'm currently in the process of, like, signing up for scholarships. And I've been on Common App, and a lot of applications ask for your SAT scores. And at least that I wasn't able to do. It's not much I can do right now. And I know, like, schools are understanding, and some of them are taking off the option to do tests. But still, in general, I feel like the school would have been able to support us and, like, our counselors. And we just don't have that type of help anymore.

SHAPIRO: Carmen?

LOPEZ VILLAMIL: I also just sort of don't really care anymore. Like, before this, I was thinking about college a lot, thinking about the application process. And now, like, I don't really care where I end up going, don't want to put the energy into the applications. I think it's just exhausting to be at home and not interacting with anyone.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. What advice do you have for your teachers in this coming year?

LOPEZ VILLAMIL: I don't think that they should expect students to come forth with what they're going through, if that makes sense, because I think what I saw in the spring was, like, students who were going through stuff who felt comfortable with their teachers were able to say, like, hey; I'm going through a hard time. Help me out here. And the teachers obviously would. But there were also people who were going through a hard time who didn't have relationships with their teachers, that just didn't feel comfortable. And then they sort of suffered, like, emotionally or in their grades, and that's not fair. So I think there has to be a way to make sure that everyone's needs get addressed.

POPA: We are all suffering through a pandemic, and they should be understanding of that.

LOPEZ VILLAMIL: The coronavirus has kind of broken all of our educational systems, but it will pass. So when it does, like, we should just rebuild them in a more equitable, safer way for all students.

JONES: Yeah. I really hope this is, like, a learning lesson.

SHAPIRO: So if we talk to you a year from now, what do you hope you'll be able to tell us?

JONES: I would hope to tell you guys that, yeah, I passed the 11th grade, that I learned a lot this year.

SHAPIRO: Carmen? Merarys?

LOPEZ VILLAMIL: I would want to say that no one that I cared about or no one in New York City or the U.S. got sick or died, that the coronavirus was no longer a threat, that we could, like, go outside to the park and that we could be in the classroom again.

POPA: Yeah. A year from now, I just hope everything would be back to normal.

SHAPIRO: Well, good luck with the coming school year. And thank you so much for talking with us about your experiences.

JONES: Yes, thank you.

POPA: Thank you for the opportunity.


SHAPIRO: That's Carmen Lopez Villamil in New York City, Merarys Popa in Detroit and London Jones in Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF OTHER COLORS SONG, "YOU KNOW THE ONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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