Our youth and the COVID crisis: Nambucca High kids have their say

Hannah Donnelly (left) with peer Hannah Johnston
Hannah Donnelly (left) with peer Hannah Johnston

Remembering back to my graduating year of high school, I still feel pangs of residual nervousness from exams taken so long ago. I remember the incessant chatter at lunch - hunched in a tight circle over magazines, planning the intricate details of outfits for our formal. And, finally at the top of the school food chain, I remember feeling a fleeting sense of invincibility that was rocked quite forcefully by world events.

In 2002, we had our own hidden evil to contend with - terrorism was on the tip of everyone's tongue after New York had its darkest day, and bombs were being detonated in crowded hotspots in Bali.

But the threat was still an ocean away, and school life went on uninterrupted.

Not so for the class of 2020, with lockdowns, social distancing, zoom meetings and online learning an unexpected chapter in their year book.

After a couple of tech fails, this week I Facetimed four Year 12 students from Nambucca Heads High School to find out just how they've been coping during these 'unprecedented times'.

If there's one thing to be said for the wisdom of youth, it's their remarkable ability to adapt.

Genna Guy (back)

Genna Guy (back)

Genna Guy has been taking things in her stride.

Life has "slowed down a little", and her plans of having a gap year to travel around the world are looking pretty impossible at this stage.

But she doesn't seem phased by all the changes occurring around her.

"I've kind of just tried to have some time to myself and also to go with the flow," she said.

"And I've decided now to just go straight to uni, instead."

Hannah Donnelly is another student who feels she's "coped fairly well".

Hannah felt she had a slight advantage come lockdown, with her business class already being facilitated online through distance education.

And keeping in touch with one another during lockdown was a cinch for our tech-savvy teens.

"My peers and I made an online school group chat. In subjects where motivation was low - like maths - we had our own zoom meetings to keep each other going," Hannah said.

The only minor drama was having to negotiate the new 'at-home' arrangements with her Dad, so they didn't cramp each other's styles.

In fact, in some ways Hannah is better off. With university open days now going virtual, it's meant she's been able to 'attend' and better suss out which tertiary institute appeals to her the most.

"That's actually why I think I've now chosen Uni of Newcastle to study business - I probably wouldn't have considered it before," she said.

The two boys I spoke with - Bradley Stone and Adam Cross - were a little more forthcoming about the personal struggles they've faced adjusting to the sudden changes this year's coughed up.

Adam Cross and Bradley Stone during our Facetime

Adam Cross and Bradley Stone during our Facetime

While Bradley is "pretty happy to learn individually" he admits that the first week of lockdown was a particular challenge for him.

"That first week we had to stay home, I remember the surf was pretty good - it was hard to fight that distraction," he said.

Adam, too, felt it was a struggle early on.

"It was a little overwhelming how it all hit at once and how unprepared we were. The first couple of weeks were a bit rough," he said.

And then just as soon as he'd adapted to online learning, regularly meeting his mate down at the beach for study sessions, everything changed again.

Two learning environments in a short period of time threw me around a little bit. It feels like you're a pack of cards and you've been shuffled around - a bit unsure of yourself and how everything is going to go.

Adam Cross

But Bradley has nothing but praise for the way his teachers handled the situation - even the ones who struggled at first with embracing tech-based learning.

"The teachers worked really hard to make sure we didn't fall behind. Kids were given laptops and wifi dongles if they didn't have access to computers or the internet at home," he said.

"We had group zoom meetings with each teacher - pretty much one every day. So I felt like we were staying in contact.

"We all had our own battles, but we were definitely in a supportive environment."

Adam feels as if he has missed a little bit of learning during the upheaval, and it's made him feel more nervous for his HSC exams, which have been pushed back a week to October 20.

Bradley is nervous too, but optimistic.

"I don't think I'll ever really feel prepared, but I feel on track," he said.

But when it comes to their futures, the boys' head spaces couldn't be more different.

Uncertain times have meant uncertainty over Adam's plans for next year.

"I was going to go do a gap year overseas, but I don't think that's going to happen now," he said.

"I could go to uni, or maybe do an electrician's trade through the Navy. It all depends on if this pandemic stuff goes away - I doubt it will happen any time soon."

Whereas Bradley is the Yang to Adam's Yin.

"If anything, this has made me more inclined to do what I had originally intended - join the Army," he said.

"I'll have job security, and be able to give assistance in times like this.

This pandemic has given me perspective - an insight into what's really important in life.

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