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Pandemic Learning: A Day in the Life of a Sixth Grader

In our fourth week of this extraordinary school year, students are experiencing school days unlike any that we, their teachers and leaders, have ever experienced. To gather insights on what it’s like to be a student attending school amid this pandemic, we asked one of our students to reflect on her experiences thus far.

Kaelyn Allen is in sixth grade at Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary School in East Harlem. Her adaptability and resilience echoes what many students are showing us. Most of what she has become accustomed to is heartening–and some of it is sobering.

On the safety protocol she experiences each day, including being greeted with a temperature check and wearing a mask all day:

I think it’s actually kind of good. It doesn’t get on my nerves because it’s for everyone’s safety.

On being back in school in person:

Honestly I feel like it’s very good… They make sure we’re wearing our masks and keeping our distance.

On learning in person v. remote learning in the spring:

It’s easy because when I needed help my parents were there, but my teacher wasn’t. I got the hang of it, but it’s easier to have my teacher around.

On her favorite part of school:

I get to meet new friends. They’re very helpful. If something is difficult that I don’t understand, they’re always there to help me.

How has it been being back with friends?

Very exciting. It’s difficult not to hug them because we haven’t seen each other since March!

On what’s she’s learning:

In science we’re learning about how there might be a fungus on Venus and scientists aren’t sure if it’s flowing lava or just a fungus. The last time they took a photo it wasn’t there.

[In math] we’re learning PEMDAS. Basically order of operations. It’s been very helpful but it gets difficult sometimes. You have to remember how to do certain things and the order you’re supposed to.

On her favorite subject:

Social Studies. I learned about ancient Greece and in a democracy and how men that were rich could vote and be in certain political debates. Women had to stay home and take care of the children. I think it’s very interesting. Now women can go to work, and they can be in political debates. They don’t just have to stay home with the kids all day.

On Esperanza Rising, Pam Muñoz Ryan’s account of the Great Depression as told through the experiences of a girl whose family works on California farms:

It’s very interesting. It teaches you how people lived during the Great Depression. It’s really good. It tells you how they survived.

It’s a little similar to the pandemic–how back then not a lot of people had jobs and still now some people don’t have jobs. They don’t have enough money to pay their bills since no one’s going to work.

It’s taught me lessons like if something like this occurs again I’m always prepared.

On the kind of work she wants to do when older:

I want to be a teacher. Maybe social studies; that’s one of my favorites.

And on her favorite part of school:

Learning new things every day.


We are both proud of Kaelyn’s ability to make parallels between Great Depression and our current time and disheartened that children are witnessing economic challenges worthy of such a comparison. But even more so, we are heartened that what Kaelyn finds challenging about coming to school in a pandemic is mastering PEMDAS in math, and remembering not to hug the friends she still gets to see in person. And we are heartened that she has more to say about what she is learning in social studies than about safety measures that are already routine for her. The measure of success for schooling this fall isn’t just how well we keep our students and teachers healthy; it is how thoroughly we return to the business of learning and curiosity that students like Kaelyn so clearly deserve.

Molly Smith is the principal of Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary School.