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Making the Best of Learning at Home


Spreading sunshine by writing letters


The saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In this time of uncertainty and unknowns, I’ve tried my best to make lemonade.

I BROOKE SIMONSjust finished my junior year at Hilton Head High School, where I am on the varsity volleyball and lacrosse teams and I’m involved with numerous clubs in school, including Project Unify, which is a 75-member, student-run club that works with intellectually and developmentally challenged students and adults in our school and community with the hopes of achieving a common goal — inclusion.

Whether it means taking our lunch period to go eat in the classroom with our special friends, or meeting on the weekends to craft, play games, and sing, inclusion is such a valuable thing for our special friends and Project Unify members.

While most of us think this time is difficult, it is even harder for those with disabilities. Their disabilities may leave them unable to leave the house because they may have a weak immune system, making it even harder to recover from potential illness.

In March, as I sat thinking about losing the end of my lacrosse and club volleyball seasons, I realized that there were people that have lost much more during this time, so I tried to think of what I could do to help.

I decided to start a pen pal campaign with help from a few special people at Pockets Full of Sunshine. With one quick text, our letter writing was off with more than a dozen high school students writing letters. 

We decided to write letters to the Rays, (adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities) to make sure that they knew they had someone to reach out to or talk to during this difficult time of isolation.

The cards are filled with inspirational quotes, photos, messages, and sunshine, in the hopes that the Rays are able to smile and feel better when they’ve opened the mail for the day. The Rays receive between two to six cards every day and I have seen firsthand the positivity and happiness it brings to mailboxes across Hilton Head Island and Bluffton.

I also joined photographers across the nation to participate in The Front Steps Project. I went to take photos of more than 70 families (from a safe distance). Then, I edited and delivered the photos to the families as a keepsake to remember this time. 

Instead of asking for payment, I asked for donations to Pockets Full of Sunshine and have been able to raise almost $3,000 thanks to the generosity of local families of all ages. 

The money will be used for Pockets to use in daily programming, occupational, and vocational training.

I wouldn’t have been able to do these things during the typical busy school semester. Online school was a challenge to adopt, but my teachers have made the best of a very difficult situation. 

Ms. White and Mrs. Abrams went above and beyond to make sure every lesson was meaningful and worthwhile. 

Whether you attended the live lecture or watched the recording, our online schooling mirrored the level of top-notch education found at Hilton Head High. 

I was able to maintain my focus on academics and utilize my time at home with purpose.

And I had fun and met many wonderful families along the way.

Although this wasn’t the ending to my junior year that I imagined, I feel lucky to have been able to serve the community and hopefully change lives in the process.


Learning the Most Important Lessons of All


ISABELLA MILLERCOVID-19 has impacted all of us in different ways. For healthcare professionals, it has required them to work long hours amidst daunting circumstances to save lives. For small business owners and those in the food and beverage industry, the virus has required new business models.

For high school students like me, eLearning became the new norm. Zoom meetings took the place of face-to-face lessons, and we used Google Classroom to retrieve and submit assignments. Understandably, the transition had its ups and downs, especially since no one understood how long these alternate approaches would need to be in place, but I applaud the teachers and administration for being creative and adaptable. 

The clubs at my school, May River High School, dug deep to come up with out-of-the-box solutions. Our yearbook team managed to pivot and still produce and distribute a yearbook to commemorate this momentous year.

When all of this started, I was concerned about students who would be at a disadvantage due to facing food insecurity and/or lack of access to technology for eLearning. It’s been heartwarming to see the community pull together to distribute meals and even provide Internet access and tablets to students in need.

My heart definitely goes out to essential workers and their children, as I know how scary the circumstances can be. My father works at a retirement community, and COVID-19 has had an impact on everyday life for him and our family — not to mention all of the residents he cares for. We’ve done our best to maintain some normalcy and find joy. 

For instance, I’ve been able to learn Spades, our family’s new favorite card game. We play it almost every night — after my dad showers, changes clothes, and takes all sorts of precautions to keep us safe when arriving home from work. We’ve also done our best to still celebrate occasions; we’ve just had to get creative. 

We enjoyed a socially distant, outdoor Easter dinner with both of my grandmothers and my great-grandmother. We’ll do the same for my brother’s upcoming birthday. 

While in quarantine, my family and I have also been involved in Masks 4 Heroes, a local mask-making project. This has involved securing donations, organizing people who can sew, distributing masks to local medical workers and first responders, and developing online content to spread the word. 

My mother has mentored me while she volunteers and has allowed me to develop some of the social media posts. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about the power of grassroots projects and the importance of community involvement. 

This summer I was planning to attend some summer programs, including the ACLU Summer Advocacy Institute. I had been looking forward to gathering with others my age in Washington, D.C., in July, but the program will now be delivered online. We’ll be analyzing some of the racial, socioeconomic, and educational issues that the virus has highlighted. 

I can sum up my personal experience with this virus as a duality. I experienced a disruption to my formal education, but I gained a deeper appreciation for my teachers and a deeper sense of empathy for fellow students who are economically challenged or otherwise disadvantaged. I missed out on family gatherings, but, in many ways, the virus has brought us even closer together — not to mention the fact that I’ve developed some impressive Spades skills, which will surely be put to good use when we’re able to once again host our Saturday night “Card Nights.” 

And, no, I won’t get to be a part of the ACLU program in person this summer, but I experienced real-world advocacy right here at home, and I reinforced my commitment to the things I believe in. Despite the fact that schools have been closed, I think I’ve learned some of the most important lessons of all. 


Senior year, interrupted


ALDO CAZALESStarting my senior year at Bluffton High School, I envisioned all the things that would make it great: prom, graduation and my final year as a student athlete. I play lacrosse— midfielder and attack—and I’m an offensive lineman on the school’s football team. 

When I learned how COVID-19 would affect the rest of the school year, my heart started to break: classes would be online, all sports were cancelled, no prom. One of the worst parts was my Europe trip was off. I was really looking forward to it and had been making monthly payments for a year and a half. Mrs. Reichert, the teacher chaperoning our trip, said our choices were to get a refund or go next year. We chose to postpone it, so our trip to London, Paris and Barcelona is now set for July 2021. 

Isolation and inactivity were hard for me, but I did my best to stay active. I made myself get up every day at 8 a.m. and do school work as if I were at school. In the afternoons I tried to do activities to take my mind off spending the rest of my senior year at home. I have a lacrosse goal so I practiced shooting. Sometimes my little sister would want to play soccer so we played in the front yard. I felt my fitness level decline. After a few weeks, I resumed running but was really out of shape. Technology helped. 

I tried to take my mind off spending the rest of my senior year at home. 

– Aldo Cazales 

Even though I couldn’t get together with my friends, we stayed in touch through our phones using Snapchat, Instagram, texts and Messenger. I spent a lot of time playing video games on my Xbox with friends from the football team, talking to each other through our headsets. If it weren’t for my console, staying at home would have been much worse. 

Although no one in my family has gotten sick, the pandemic definitely affected us. My mom is a cook at The Dispensary and had to apply for unemployment when all the restaurants closed. My father has diabetes so is at high risk for COVID-19, but he had no choice but to keep working at his tile and flooring business to put food on our table. I don’t have a lot of experience laying tile but I help him.

My brother and I tutored my sister Jayleen, who is 10, since online learning can only go so far. But what really hit me the most was fear for my older sister, a nurse at Duke University Hospital working on the frontlines of the pandemic. She missed my birthday and my mom’s birthday because of the risk of affecting us. She would text us every day saying how much she missed us, but we couldn’t even visit her.

Finally, we were able to go to Durham in mid-May to help her move. People are taking the risk of coronavirus much more seriously there, I think, because there are so many hospitals and universities. Everyone was wearing a mask and some stores and restaurants were saying they wouldn’t serve you if you weren’t wearing one. Bluffton High gave each student a mask so I used it. 

Now, I go out very little but when I do, I make sure I’m not with a big crowd. My favorite memory of my senior year before the quarantine is homecoming week. The whole school was filled with school spirit as we dressed up and went to the football game. That energy helps build people up. My favorite memory after COVID-19 is a photoshoot that I did with a small number of my senior class friends, as if we were having our own prom. 

In the fall I’m going to College of Charleston to study business administration. We haven’t heard if we will start the year online or not. If we start on campus, I’m not that worried about contact. If we follow the rules and safe protocols, we shouldn’t be that worried. I’m ready to go and give it a try.