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The Pandemic as a Teachers Assistant: Lexi Payton ’22 at Yellow Springs High School

“Absurd times call for absurd amounts of love.” – Brad Montague 

Last week I received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine because I am working for the Yellow Springs High School on my winter co-op. All my life I have had an irrational fear of needles, but for this vaccine, in particular, I toughened it out. Maybe it was the fact that I had to go into the school alone to get my shot so I had already built up a sense of independence. Or maybe it was spending three months in Boston by myself in a previous co-op. Or maybe it was just the fact that the COVID-19 virus has killed over 500,000 people in the United States alone (this new number just being surpassed a week after my 21st birthday). But no matter what it was, I really felt brave, and ultimately I felt really grateful at this moment. 

I stood in line in a school filled with teachers guiding people from one hallway into another, leading to a room filled with people standing in different lines. The lady standing in front of the doorway directed me to the third line, “Ma’am, yes, ma’am, I am going to need you to go to line three, yes that line over there. Yes behind the man in the blue shirt.” 

Teachers really are superheroes, and after seeing what teachers have been doing for their students during this pandemic, there truly is no denying that. 

Standing in line for the vaccine

Thinking back to the first time I heard of the virus was when I was on my previous co-op in San Francisco, California. It was warm there and I had so much fun exploring such a beautifully artistic and historically-rich place. I ate so much good food with my boyfriend and every single day was an adventure. The teachers there radiated joy and love. Before my trip to San Francisco, I traveled to Boston where I met so many amazing people and friends. I explored a brand new city all by myself. Boston was a gorgeous place where I also ate a lot of great food and had a lot of fun. The teachers in Boston taught me that kindness and empathy are essential as an educator. The more that I reflect on the previous twelve months and my time as a student at Antioch, I know exactly why I wasn’t afraid to get the vaccine. I started my co-op at the Yellow Springs High School in January of 2021 and when I walked into the high school, I couldn’t even shake the principal’s hand. During the pandemic, our habits, routines, and lifestyles have drastically changed. It is ultimately a privilege to be able to say that I am tired of COVID-19 and that I am blessed I get to see another day, but I can’t help but admit that I miss life before when things felt natural, fun, and overall more connected. More precisely, I miss hugs and being able to see people’s smiles. 

Plague gear

In 2020, I walked into the school building with all of the windows surrounding me and I was ecstatic to be working at a new school, although I have to admit, I was a little nervous to be working with the older students. In the fall of 2020, I met with someone from the high school outside of the school on a picnic bench. It was a windy day, and she and I talked about the many possibilities I had of starting at the high school as the leaves in the big oak tree above our heads swayed. During this entire conversation, my hair (that is growing out from a shaved head) was blowing all over my face. I was laughing the entire interview and I drove home that day smiling from ear to ear. I had so many possibilities if everything went right. I could work with a Spanish-speaking student and help them with English while they help me with Spanish! Or I could read to younger children, or even help students with cognitive disabilities organize their classes. I was nervous but also thrilled at the prospect of working with older students and hopefully becoming a big-sister type mentor. This was a conversation that took place when we were all hoping that COVID would somehow not enter into 2021. I really held onto that hope for a long time. I have been wearing my mask. I have been staying home and social distancing. I have been doing everything as I am supposed to. 

Over this past co-op, I have been working remotely on campus for the Yellow Springs High School. Specifically, I am emailing parents and students about the reading program Lexia. I mostly make calls and email parents most days telling parents that this program is designed to help struggling and nearly-proficient readers in grades 6–12 become proficient readers and confident learners. I work with students and parents alike to answer questions on Lexia Powerup so that students can access the site. But to be completely truthful, I am still learning how to process not being able to see students in-person, and I keep thinking about what my co-op would have been like if COVID-19 didn’t exist. Like teachers all across America, I feel as if I am mourning. I am mourning the experiences I wish I could be having and I am mourning as I see other people my age go out and party. However, although I am disappointed and sad, I am also trying my best to remain positive and stay grateful. I am disappointed I am working remotely and I am sad that I cannot form relationships with students in the way that I want to. However, it is a brand new year in 2021, and there is still so much left to do and see. I have been trying to find joy in the little things: footprints in a fresh coat of snow, the anticipation of sledding down a big hill, a trip to the campus library, watching a pet snail, or a rainbow forming in your room over your trash can and laundry hamper. I am learning to find joy in the little things, the things that are right here. I am learning how to be grateful for what is here and given while also trying to remain hopeful. Spring is almost here. 

“I am learning to find joy right here in the mess of things.” – Morgan Harper Nichols

Written by

Lexi Payton is pursuing a self-designed major in Critical Pedagogy and Creative Writing within Public Education. Lexi grew up in small town Goshen, Ohio and loves to read, write, collage, and take photos in her free time. Her academic interests include social justice and educational reform. After her time at Antioch, she hopes to pursue a career as a high-school English teacher.

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