Valley Stream students cope with virus’s new realities

Central High School senior Aman Islam in a photo he posted to Facebook. “We’ve been working so hard,” he said, “and now our senior year might be taken from us.”
Central High School senior Aman Islam in a photo he posted to Facebook. “We’ve been working so hard,” he said, “and now our senior year might be taken from us.”
Courtesy Aman Islam

Amid the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, Valley Stream students have turned to their loved ones for support, comfort and entertainment since Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed schools across the state through April 1 and mandated the closure of businesses for everyone except “essential” workers.

Over the past two weeks, 2019 South High School graduate Abigail Arjune, 18, said she has relied on her sister, Sarah, 15, to help get her through what she described as one of the hardest times of her life. 

“I didn’t think it would get to this point and that it would get this bad,” Abigail said. “The hardest part is that I have to stay at home, and I can’t see my friends or [extended] family members . . . I miss them, and it’s lonely.” 

After a few days in isolation, Abigail said she started to connect with her sister in new ways. “We go for walks together now, and recently we even had a mini-photo shoot together in the park,” she said. “This is weird that we’re living through this time . . . but we’re trying to have fun while establishing a routine.”  

As a freshman at St. John’s University, Arjune said she had experienced a seismic shift in her education since the school’s switch to online learning, after St. John’s and colleges across the state closed their campuses.

“Everyone’s online experience is different,” she said. “I’m taking five classes, and in some of them I’m struggling to keep up, but at least I don’t have to sit through long, extended classes anymore.”

Valley Streamer Sashy Palaguachi, 19, a freshman at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the pandemic has affected her financially and emotionally. Last week she filed for unemployment after she was laid off from her job at a car dealer.

“This is scary,” she said. “I have to figure out how I’m going to pay for things now.”

John Jay has also moved to online learning, which Palaguachi said lacks the hands-on experience of classroom learning that she was accustomed to and appreciates.

“When you learn in the classroom, you can talk more about lessons and learn directly from a teacher,” she said. “Online learning just requires you to submit to a virtual world.” 

Palaguachi said, though, that the statewide quarantine has allowed her to express her creative side. “I’ve been writing, singing, learning new songs, reading more and spending more time with family,” she said. “I like going outside, and I’m learning new things from videos about makeup and hair.”

Sashy’s sister, Emily, 13, a ninth-grader at South High School, said she finds online learning inferior to classroom instruction. She worries about her grades, she said.

“Everyone wants to go back to school, and everyone is saying that they are never going to ask to not go to school again,” Emily said. “I don’t like online school because teachers aren’t teaching us. They’re just sending us work, and they haven’t found a way to do video calls yet.”

Emily said the virus has also taken an emotional toll on her. “I’m scared that it will affect my family,” she said. “It makes me depressed because I feel so lonely away from my friends.”

To stay busy, Emily has been reading, cleaning the house, watching shows on Netflix and looking forward to returning to classroom learning. “When I go back to school, everything will be new, and it will hit us,” she said. “I want to be ready for that, so I’m going to study more.”

For graduating high school seniors, the pandemic has robbed them of the social rituals that are part of a special time. Central High School senior Aman Islam, 17, was preparing for prom and graduation when the pandemic hit, and school and school-related activities were suspended. 

“We’ve been working so hard, and now our senior year might be taken from us,” Islam said. “It’s stressful not to know if we’re going back to school or if there will be prom or graduation, because those are memorable things that you can’t get back.”

Many school events and sports were canceled, which Islam said he wanted to experience for the last time as a high school student. “There were so many things I was looking forward to . . .,” he said. “It’s frustrating being at home, and a little nerve-racking not knowing if you’re asymptomatic.” 

Islam remained hopeful, though, he said, and has found online learning helpful. “I’m hoping that with all the social distancing, we can keep cases down,” he said, “and by April or May, we can go back to normal and we can start living our lives again.”