It’s no surprise to anyone that the new first quarter of virtual learning poses its share of challenges to students, teachers, families, and others. From long hours in front of a device to making sure all students actually have devices and Internet access, it’s an ongoing process not only for The Soulsville Charter School (TSCS), but also for schools throughout the world.

Two students at TSCS who are thriving academically but facing their own share of COVID-19-related challenges are sisters Aaliyah (11th grade, above left) and Miracle (10th grade, above right) Gunn. We recently caught up with them to find out how they are doing in terms of schoolwork and life in general during the new normal.

TSCS: Everything changed when the school had to close in March for the rest of the school year and now it is all different again with the new virtual learning, at least for the first quarter. How did the school closure impact you and how are you adapting to the new virtual school?

Aaliyah: The pandemic has affected me tremendously. When I heard that I would not be attending in-person school this fall, I was devastated because I would be missing my friends, teachers, and in-person learning. Strangely, I cannot leave my house and go as I please; it has taken my spirit of freedom away. However, I must roll with the flow and study just as hard to keep my grades up. I am grateful that I get to see fellow teachers and classmates virtually.

Miracle: The school closure impacted me by limiting my ability to see my friends. I’m adapting to the new virtual school environment very well. I feel like it’s exhausting sometimes having to sit all day and listen to someone talk, and not being in an actual classroom. However, I will strive to do my best as if I was sitting in my classroom at Soulsville.

TSCS: What are some of the biggest challenges and how are you trying to overcome them?

Aaliyah: Some of my biggest challenges during virtual learning are staying on task and sitting for hours listening to my teachers’ lectures. To overcome these challenges, I have learned to take advantage of the breaks given in between classes. Each gap is 5 to 10 minutes. I get up to take a quick walk around the house and get a sip of water. By the time of my next class, I have refreshed, and I am ready to tackle whatever lies ahead.

Miracle: One of the biggest challenges is being able to stay focused and comprehend what the teachers are saying. I’m trying to overcome these challenges by taking notes on what the teacher says while in class, along with paying close attention. Our Zoom call class hours are 90 minutes long and at times it becomes very tiring. Knowing that my bed is only 50 feet away I am tempted so many times that my body becomes magnetized to my pillow and I long for a nap (LOL). 

TSCS: How is the staff helping you through all this, both teachers and other staff members?

Aaliyah: Learning online is very difficult at times, but my teachers are always there and ready to help me if needed. They have been very active and are willing to devote time outside of class for tutoring and questions. I know that if I need additional assistance, my teachers will be there always to help me. Soulsville has the finest teachers who don’t mind going above and beyond the call of duty.

Miracle: The staff is helping me through all of this by going over class instructions and expectations daily. They provide us with our schedule for that week and other pieces of important information while still motivating us to stay positive during these hard times.

TSCS: As sisters, do you help each other and do you get a lot of support from your father, who has been involved with the school and is in education?

Aaliyah: My sister Miracle has difficulty at times with her lessons. She occasionally asks me for help. I am a grade above her and try to assist her as much as possible. My dad is always happy to help my sister and me with any schoolwork. Even though he works and is currently in school earning his Juris Doctorate in law, he finds the time to help us be successful in our learning. 

Miracle: As the youngest sister I typically get help from my older sister whenever it’s needed. She is one grade ahead of me and she shares her knowledge of previous lessons. Getting a good education is very important in our family. My dad is very devoted to my education and he occasionally takes time out of his busy schedule to assist me with homework and classroom projects.

TSCS: Outside of schoolwork, how are you each dealing with the COVID crisis? Are you doing okay? What are the main challenges to you personally?

Aaliyah: Outside of schoolwork, I stay productive working an after school job. While at work, I practice all safety precautions; however, the main challenge for me is making sure I am always wearing a mask because it’s easy to leave the house without it. I also try to stay in contact with my friends and family. It is always a joy to hear from someone I love and care for deeply. During this pandemic, it has been the most challenging time for everyone, but I am staying strong and optimistic because one day, our world will return to normal.

Miracle: Outside of schoolwork, I’m dealing with this COVID crisis very well. Whenever my family and I go somewhere I make sure I practice social distancing, wear my mask faithfully, actively wash my hands, and avoid crowds. It becomes very difficult at times when shopping at my favorite store, Wal-Mart. Surprisingly, I am adjusting to the new norm. 

TSCS: In general, what do you hope for the near future?

Aaliyah: I impatiently await normalcy. I cannot wait until I can hang with my friends, talk and laugh freely without a mask, and be able to hug and touch friends and loved ones without worrying about social distancing guidelines. I believe I have a bright future ahead. It is my goal to stay focused and on task striving to make the best out of life even in a time of a crisis. If God is for us, who can be against us!

Miracle: It is my desire that soon the COVID 19 pandemic will disappear. One thing that I believe, as many Americans believe, is that we can never take advantage of the freedom and liberty of being able to come and go as we please, mingle in crowds, freely attend public places without a mask, and travel the world without precautions. It will feel so wonderful just to be free to be a liberated me again.