The following articles were written by Wellesley Middle School students as part of First to the Frontpage, a 12-week journalism program created and run by Ian Lei and Felipe Lopez, editors for Wellesley High School’s newspaper, The Bradford. Lei and Lopez had plenty of help from Lizzie Berger, Kate Bhatt, Suzie Kim, and Kaelyn King—other writers for The Bradford. Originally intended to be run at Wellesley Middle School, the program moved online as a result of the pandemic. The program’s emphasis on individualized learning allowed student participants to explore their interest in journalism and to write their own articles on how COVID-19 affected their community.
We ran an initial set of middle school student work, in the form of short articles, on June 19.
- How online school impacts students’ well-being by Alexandra Vella
- Testing is Key to Defeating the Coronavirus, Why Isn’t the U.S. Doing it? by Alice Zhang
- How our school system was unprepared for COVID-19 by Chetan Dhebar
- You Cannot Just Throw Out Identities Without Knowing The Cost by Michelle Cai
How online school impacts students’ well-being
By Alexandra Vella ’24
On March 13th, students were overjoyed to hear that school would be closed for two weeks due to the Coronavirus pandemic reaching Wellesley. Thinking it would be a break from the stress of school, students celebrated this as “vacation”. However, the joy didn’t last long as Wellesley Public Schools continued to stay closed for the rest of the year.
On March 23rd, schools began suggesting learning, but everything was optional. Finally, on April 13th, Wellesley Public Schools Remote Learning Plan 2.0 began and moved schools formally online. This transition has been far from easy for parents, students, and administrators.
There is no doubt there have been definite benefits to this new online situation. To start, school is only from 9 am to 12 pm. Classes are roughly 25 minutes long, with teacher check-ins happening once a week, and the entire quarter is pass/fail. This means that as long as students participate and put effort into their work, they will pass the quarter. As a result, students have more free time to do what they choose. As an eighth-grader myself, without having to balance activities, service projects, and homework, I have more time to care about myself and my well being.
“I’ve been spending a lot more time with my family, talking to friends over Zoom or FaceTime, and lots of crafts, baking, games, and walks/bike rides are happening” said student Fiona Lloyd ’24.
Before the pandemic, students were finishing final sport seasons and preparing to start new ones, were about to perform their end of year musical, were hosting service projects, or were going on class trips for chorus or science. In losing these activities, students lost opportunities to directly connect with their friends and peers. One of the biggest costs of online school is losing social support and our in-school camaraderie.
“I want to see my friends and do the projects I was supposed to do for my electives,” said student Madison Prowda ’24.
Another significant impact for students overall is on their mental health. The lack of social support, a consistent routine, and variety in everyday life has taken its toll on nearly everyone. For students whose parents are immunocompromised there is an added fear that everything they do could take a toll and expose their loved ones. This is also true for students whose parents are essential workers.
“Since my mum is a nurse, it is hard because she is not around as much as she usually is, so I see her less….when I do, not seeing her as much makes the times I do see her more special. I get worried because she is working with COVID patients but I know she loves helping them out” said Saavedra Zwick ’26.
For many other students, school provides a safe place for them to go and people to talk to.
“I’m really worried about the kids who live in abusive homes, and them having no place to go and no way to get help. A lot of people are out of work and are afraid. There is more stress in families and for some, more violence, but there is nobody to check on the kids,” said Karen Rasmussen, parent of WMS students.
Because online school is new for everyone, the kinks have not all been worked out. School’s are expecting a lot from students, and teachers don’t know how much work is appropriate in these circumstances. For students, the workload in addition to the stresses of the pandemic, can be overwhelming.
“Teachers think we can accomplish more than we actually can in 30 mins. It’s just very stressful and more work than I expected since everyone is going through a lot” said Prowda.
Since everyone is at home, students cannot collaborate and work together as they would in school. Some have ideas for how to solve these problems, but there is almost nothing students can do at this point.
“I would like to have optional calls where we could do breakout rooms and work with our classmates” said Lloyd.
For eighth graders leaving WMS this year, they have lost the opportunity to celebrate significant milestones. Moving to high school is a big transition for students. It is not as big as graduating high school or college, yet feels just as monumental. Without many looking to support the eighth graders in coping with this big change, they can feel abandoned. The traditions that every eighth grader experiences are cancelled with only a few moved online. With the year cut short, eight graders’ preparation for high school, in terms of performing arts, sports, and other extracurriculars, have come to a halt. The coronavirus has deprived eighth graders from the three-year middle school experience that would have shaped them for the coming years in the high school.
“It’s hard not being able to talk to any other students or teachers, and especially knowing that I will never be in the same classes again with everyone ever again. I would 100% rather be in regular school,” said Lloyd.
Testing is Key to Defeating the Coronavirus, Why Isn’t the U.S. Doing it?
By Alice Zhang ’24
America is leading the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths. As of June 8, there are over 2 million confirmed cases, and around 110,000 deaths. Furthermore, as the economy continues to remain shut down, millions of Americans are experiencing job insecurity and financial instability. The state of the nation seems to get increasingly worse each day.
In a way, it is. Although the number of new deaths has been declining, the virus is still widely circulating, meaning a lot of people are still getting infected and people are still testing positive, yet more testing is what the United States government needs. It needs to direct more funding towards increased testing, so the country can open up as soon as possible.
Studies show that mass testing is key to slowing the COVID-19 pandemic. Without testing, there is no data. How many confirmed cases of COVID-19 a country has depends on how much they test. Despite the importance of testing, why isn’t the U.S. doing more of it? It’s not a matter of money. In 2019, the US had $716 billion in military spending alone.
February was a crucial month for action. Despite most cases occurring in China, health officials desperately warned the U.S. that COVID-19 would soon reach them. Instead of following the lead of countries like Singapore and Taiwan, President Donald Trump downplayed the threat and continued to ignore the warnings U.S. intelligence agencies had given him. He continued his presidential campaign around the country, and at the end of the month claimed that the cases in the U.S. would drop from 15 cases to 0 which, based on the number of cases in the U.S. now, was incorrect. As a result, the U.S. was unprepared when the cases across the country exploded, leaving ventilators, masks, and, most importantly, testing kits scarce.
Countries like South Korea were much better equipped. They managed to keep the hospitals under full capacity, not shut everything down, and even have people back on the streets again. They managed to level off their cases by the end of March, even as the U.S.’s cases began climbing. How did they manage to do this?
Even when there were only 30 cases, South Korea started working with biotech companies to produce thousands of tests. They distributed them across the country, and their hospitals were armed with testing kits, preparing for the worst. This meant when South Korea was hit by the coronavirus, its hospitals were able to trace and test anyone who came in contact with someone who was infected, not just the people who showed symptoms.
After the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (M.E.R.S) outbreak in 2012, South Korea changed its laws, allowing the government access to an infected person’s data and security footage during an outbreak. Their steps are tracked and shared with the public to inform others where they went and where it could possibly be infected. Using this data, they can figure out who an infected person came in contact with and test them. If they test positive, the process starts again. This method is called contact tracing and is how South Korea has been able to not completely shut down. The catch? It requires tests. Tests that many countries, including the U.S., do not have on hand.
Although the number of coronavirus cases spiked in South Korea (its highest numbers in months), as businesses, cities, and schools began to reopen, the government responded effectively and overcame this challenge because it made testing a priority. South Korea efficiently tested the factory workers and students in the area, shut it down, and rescheduled accordingly.
Across the U.S., protests over the economic downturn have cropped up. The U.S. is experiencing its highest unemployment numbers since the Great Depression, hovering at 14.7 percent, which could potentially increase.
As states start reopening and the country begins rebuilding the economy, testing and social distancing will become more and more important. Though increased funding for testing may delay the rate of economic recovery, it will help end the pandemic and prevent a predicted second wave. The presumptive reopenings in many states are causing an uptick in cases, further heightening the need for testing. By opening up too soon without reliable data from increased testing, the economy could suffer more, as the uptick in cases will prevent more people from participating in the economy.
America has some of the lowest testing numbers among first-world countries. Even as states start to reopen, the U.S. is reporting nearly 20,000 new cases every day. And many cases are flying under the radar due to the lack of testing. To fix this, the government could redirect funding from the military and police towards manufacturing testing kits. The military gets immense funding every year, but there’s no active war abroad to prepare for and fight against. However, we are fighting a war at home — against the coronavirus — and we are severely underfunded.
How our school system was unprepared for COVID-19
By Chetan Dhebar
COVID-19 has presented us with many opportunities for change and growth as a society that we must act on. One that has been made clear is education.
We were clearly caught unprepared by coronavirus. There are more ways we can cope right now, prepare for another virus, and use this time to improve our education system.
COVID-19 has shown how unprepared our education system is for an outbreak by pointing out three main things:
- First, it showed how poorly the curriculum holds up. Even with the continuous perseverance of the administration, students are learning a smaller amount than in physical school, leaving students significantly behind educationally. Andrew Spagnuolo ’26, when asked what he thought about remote learning, described it as inadequate. Although this is understandable, it is clear how uncharted this is.
- Second, COVID-19 shows how little our education system was prepared for a global pandemic technology wise. Technological issues and glitches that abound in everyday life make days increasingly stressful and chaotic. Students are always at risk of classes being hacked or attacked by people online.
- Lastly, COVID-19 has shown how society was unprepared structurally for a global pandemic. There are no means of keeping students in classes or getting them to do their work. There is no middle ground where they don’t get a grade but still experience consequences for failing. Not only is it easy for students to skip classes, but there is a limited structure for helping kids that are in a tough situation. Whether they are experiencing financial or emotional suffering, it is still extremely difficult.
While the situation may be bleak, there are still things left to do. Although the school year is coming to an end, we cannot change our past actions. However, as the future is unclear, it is important to focus on it. At the moment, there is no clear plan for school next year, making it a crucial focus point.
Finding a middle ground between safety and education next year will be very difficult. My proposal is that students will have weeks where they are attending live classes in homerooms which is groups of students that start the day together and go to all the core classes together, and weeks when students are experiencing a normal school day in the physical building, which includes walking to our classes and talking to each other in person. This way there will be less people in the hallways and it will be easier to practice social distancing. However, students can still ask for help in easier ways than in online school. We could design a way for students to get hallway passes, so that if they really needed help but they were in homeroom, they could still talk to their teachers. This would lower the excessive amount of technology used in remote learning, where students are spending a majority of the day looking at a screen. According to the New York Post, kids are spending over six hours a day looking at their screens, a 500% increase from before COVID-19.
As Mr. Brian Campbell, a sixth grade ELA teacher, pointed out it, is also important to listen to and follow the leadership at this time.
“It’s incredibly difficult to say now what those plans may be at the end of August, but those in positions of leadership are carefully considering the safest options in order to give students their education,” said Campbell.
Campbell said that most of our leaders right now are doing their best to ensure that we stay healthy and educated amidst this pandemic. It is still true, however, that solutions are always wanted and that citizen feedback matters.
In the end, it is important to understand that this is a hard time for anybody, and there is no way to completely change that. We need to do our best amidst these tough times, but it is okay to not be perfect.
You Cannot Just Throw Out Identities Without Knowing The Cost
By Michelle Cai ’26
Imagine being the person most talked about just because you had the virus. You could hear the crowd whispering your name and you know this is not fair and it can be avoided. COVID-19 patients’ identities should be hidden not only because it respect one’s privacy, but it can also stop COVID-19 discrimination and prevent unnecessary fear and anxiety.
Keeping patient identities private respects boundaries. Surviving after being infected by the virus is a victory, yet most would not want strangers writing, talking, and interviewing them. Having a private life is what some people dream about, and the COVID-19 pandemic should not be allowed to ruin those dreams. According to the New York Times, a woman named Elizabeth Martucci and her son, Marcus, were COVID-19 survivors. They wrote messages on their driveway and shirts that said “COVID-19 Survivor”, but soon realized they had made a mistake. A month after they recovered, there were still neighbors who ran away when they saw them. While everyone deserves the same amount of respect, the article stated that the Martuccis felt like outcasts. As privacy is very important, it is crucial to keep identities hidden from the public.
Discrimination is a response that is already happening and will be even worse if identities were publicly announced. Human Rights Watch, dedicated to defending people’s rights, says the Chinese government has been discriminating against citizens of African descent. The organization stated that China, “ began a campaign to forcefully test Africans for the coronavirus, and ordered them to self-isolate or to quarantine in designated hotels.” And China isn’t the only place where this is happening. According to CNN, an Asian 2-year-old and a 6-year-old were stabbed because people were accusing them of spreading the virus. To add on to that, a 47-year-old Asian man was harassed walking his son to the bus stop. Kendall Cyr ’26 states, “It is a stereotype that Asian Americans are what’s causing the virus in America, just because the virus started in China.” Discrimination should never be handed to someone purposely, and is always something to prevent and never encourage.
Last but not least, publicizing identities can cause additional anxiety. People do not think when they are frightened, therefore when they are consumed by their fear, they do not notice the people around them being hurt by their irrational actions. The more anxiety and fear someone has, the more oblivious they become to themselves. Anshika Chadda ’26 says that most people are frightened of the virus because of the lack of knowledge presented. The fact that there is a spike in numbers of COVID-19 cases makes one doubt what they already know and become overwhelmed. When people get anxious, others around them start to get anxious as well.
Although keeping identities a secret is unnervingly necessary, publicizing identities has advantages as well. And so does telling people what they need to know. For example, one can find out if they have been in contact with a patient and can test themselves for the virus. Nevertheless, privacy, discrimination, and fear should be a bigger focus. COVID-19 survivors should have the right to live like everybody else, without the scorn and disappointment weighing on their shoulders from the people around them.