“The Great Pause”: reflections on the one year anniversary of the pandemic from the RV community

Instead of cake and flowers, we sat down and and had a long discussion about lessons learned and moving forward

March 13, 2021

Counting up the tick marks on the bunker wall, it’s time to open the hatch and take a look at the world a year post COVID. Massive and seemingly inescapable change has seeped into every aspect of life for people of all ages and backgrounds. But being in lockdown for a full 365 days has given everyone plenty of time to contemplate this continuing reality; whether that be through TikTok dances, exploring new hobbies, socio-political uproars, school burnouts or the meaning of life. Thus, its reflection time: the Holly Spirit presents the public with some group thoughts and discussion on what it was like to live through the first year of a worldwide pandemic. 

The following is a Q and A reflection between Holly Spirit staff members, past and present RV students, and RV faculty. 


In the Beginning

Despite the first diagnosed case of COVID-19 in America being confirmed on January 21, 2020, American worries were generally low until the beginning of February, when the World Health Organization issued a Global Health Emergency and global air travel was restricted. By March 11, the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and two days later, former president Donald Trump announced COVID-19 a National Emergency. March 13, 2020 is the infamous day that rings the loudest in most RV students’ minds when in reference to “The Beginning.” That afternoon, RV and many other schools throughout New Jersey decided to close for two weeks — and eventually, until the present day. 

For the younger generation, the beginning of quarantine is commonly revered as a time of TikTok dances, banana bread-bakes, and Tiger King binging in order to cope with missing important school events and the new, unprecedented schedule. For older generations, especially teachers, worries about their health and the health of their students reigned supreme. 

Looking back, what were your initial thoughts and feelings? 

Jenna Tomasch, senior

[The] beginning of quarantine was a novelty. No classes, no schedules, nowhere to be, just freedom inside my house. An introvert’s dream one might say. Now I’m over it and I just want to hang out with friends. I’d see other people hanging out with a lot of their friends and get frustrated.” 


Mrs. Sarah Sherman, English teacher and adviser of the Holly Spirit 

I was pleasantly surprised at the resilience of my students. When everything closed a year ago, I expected students to fall off and disappear, despite what I would post in the classroom or assign.”


Mr. David Wright, RV Ceramics and Wheel Throwing teacher 

For me, it was scary, because I’m old and I’m home still because I’m immunocompromised. It’s very scary, and I talked to people my age and they were scared. I remember teachers, they were nervous… But I know at the beginning, I was [at RV], we were frightened. I mean, we were really, my brother, sister, in laws, everyone older, it hit us that ‘we could die here’ just by going to the supermarket. It was so unprecedented. In the beginning we were washing everything that came into the house…it made me realize I had no clue that this could have happened.

It hit us that ‘we could die here’ just by going to the supermarket”

— Mr. Wright

“I expected more people to come together, too. This whole thing with politics within it…the anti-belief in COVID, and not wearing masks since the beginning. It’s lunacy, it’s not believing in science…I heard a lot of people say ‘I’ll decide if it’s real or not”…Scientists are specialists, and they all have their own specific thing, and they’re the people you need to listen to. I was really shocked [and] disgusted by the divisiveness, I had no idea that this is the way so many people thought…Overall, a lot of disappointment in our country existed and still does.” 


Mr. Joseph Martin, RV Principal 

“[March 13] marks the day that I was on the PA system saying, ‘Hey guys, you better go through your lockers today and bring home anything that you might need to work on,’ code for something big might be going down over the next couple of days. So literally that evening, Dr. Heilig and I were here [with] Mr. Connolly, our curriculum director, and were here at 7:30 working on communications. We were on a long phone conference with the health department about shutting down, that the virus is prevalent, we are in a pandemic stage, it’s not safe with the numbers being reported now. The county health department recommended us to close down for several weeks, into spring break. We stood there with our jaws dropped because we couldn’t believe it, and if you had told me we’d still be dealing with this a year later, I wouldn’t have believed you, I really wouldn’t have.”


Independence without structure

When schools closed, no one was prepared. All RV had access to in terms of online learning was Google Classroom, G-mail, and a bit later on, Google Meet. Even on snow days in the past, students were not expected to do online work for a multitude of reasons; and you always knew you’d be coming back eventually. Students and teachers had to adapt to being alone in their endeavors. For many high school students, this was their first experience with setting up their own time management skills, something that is often learned through college. Much less with schooling, teens and adults alike had to find activities to fill their now abundant time, all while following health guidelines. For many this either meant a window of opportunity or the dreadful feeling of wasting time that you’ll never get back. 

Freshmen Daria Nanuen and Dranna Mchugh participate in Ms. Maira’s English I class. Most students are virtual, so the few in class have to work with students remotely. (Ella Ruminski)

What did you find to keep you going during quarantine? How did this change how you normally filled your time, and did notice any difficulties?

Ryan Edwards, junior 

“Because of the pandemic starting in March 2020, it gave high school students a glimpse into what college life is, if students choose to continue their education. Last March, there was no in-person, individual direct interaction between students and teachers. This gave students a huge window of independence. I used this time as a perfect opportunity to restructure myself and my goals in high school.” 


Nia Plair, junior 

Balancing self care, school and family life was already difficult before the pandemic, but the virus made it worse by taking away the seemingly necessary social interaction of school.”


Jenna Tomasch, senior 

“Something I learned through all this is some of those tasks that I say I will get to when I have more free time, I’ll never get to. Even when I had all the time I could possibly want, I still didn’t do them. I did other things, and that’s OK. Even though everyone says this isn’t a time where you need to be productive all of quarantine and this past year, some of those items on my list I just don’t actually need or want to do. Taking action is the first step, and if some of those items on my ‘I’ll get to it when I have more time’ need to get done, it might be time to start looking at it from a different perspective and find a different way to do it…it’s supposed to be easier, but there is new challenges and different difficulties. You have a lot more time now but it’s still hard to get things done.”


Alvin Lopez, RV Class of 2020 

“When the lockdown began, I felt defeated and wasn’t sure of how to continue along my career path, aside from continuing to take undergraduate classes. However, through lots of research, networking and ‘shots in the dark,’ I was able to find things to do. Currently, I shadow at a veterinary clinic, volunteer at a dog shelter, work with the Citizens Climate Lobby and a PA State wildlife rescue team, [and I] became a U.N. Volunteer and [I] teach COVID-19 safety classes to fourth graders. Over the past year, I learned to never be afraid to reach out and ask any organization if they need help. The worst thing they can do is say no, and there are plenty of virtual opportunities to find. If you don’t have LinkedIn, I’d highly recommend downloading it and making a profile.”


Mrs. Sarah Sherman, RV English Teacher and adviser for the Holly Spirit 

“In my opinion, students seem exhausted now more than ever. Many are faced with the very difficult task of having to manage their own time for the first time in their lives, something that is normally reserved for their college years. This has taken a huge mental toll on students’ mental and physical health. That kind of pressure can be exhausting for students this young. I think burnout is real among students.”


Mr. David Wright, RV Ceramics and Wheel Throwing teacher

I started doing a lot of things around the house. It makes you busier at home with things you never had the time to do before. Recently I’ve been putting things in the attic, going through paperwork and photographs, stuff like that. Again I’d rather have it be normal, but it’s nice that I had the time to get that stuff done. What else was there to do?”


Getting used to Hybrid Schooling

As previously mentioned, in the beginning of the pandemic, RV and schools around the world had minimal access to applications that would be able to translate lessons from the classroom to home. RV worked around multiple barriers, including students who did not have access to technology or Wifi at home, a lack of in person assistance from teachers, as well as a lack of online training for teachers who were not as tech savvy. As of September 2020, RV was able to supply laptops to students and adjust curriculums into an online format, making the new school year a bit more streamlined after having to make quick adjustments the previous spring to make do. 

Currently, RV functions on a hybrid schedule, in which students are separated into the “White” and “Red” cohorts by last name, and attend in person classes two days a week. Starting March 15, teachers are required to work their contractual hours in the building five days a week (previously, they could leave and work from home after 12:30 PM, and work from home on Wednesdays, which are all-remote days for students). With strict rules set in place, and both students and teachers now accustomed to online learning, there continues to be developments in returning to some level of “normalcy.”

Reviews on the usage of hybrid learning across all bases are mostly mixed. Difficulties focusing and maintaining knowledge among students, teachers not being able to instruct to the best of their abilities and lack of community and socialization tip towards the negative. And those who are proud of the adaptability of those involved and feel the successes and ease of using technology for education as well as now being able to enter the building maintain positive outlooks. 

How do you feel about hybrid and online learning so far? What differences stick out to you the most?

Students: How has your academic career been affected? 

Nisanur Yilmaz, freshman

“It was definitely harder to learn through the computer and not in person…it was very stressful and challenging”


Nia Plair, junior

This past year has negatively affected my academic career because it is very difficult to focus while learning remotely and the lack of social interaction definitely took a toll on me.” 


It is very difficult to focus while learning remotely and the lack of social interaction definitely took a toll on me”

— Nia Plair


Jenna Tomasch, senior 

“I think this year evened out for me academically, there were parts that made me better and parts that limited me. To be more specific I found it very easy to take notes when my bio teacher would send us recorded lectures that I could go at my own pace with and pause to get the information I needed from, I could even go back to review the lecture again later. I found it more difficult to learn math between a screen because of the barrier of the mute button. I would have to unmute if I needed to say something instead of just speaking up in class. Overall it is much harder to pay attention so I had to make the most of the one in person day I got. It was always dispiriting to find out I’d have an assessment on my one in person day and wouldn’t get to utilize the in class time.”


Alvin Lopez, RV Class of 2020 

Initially, my academic career was negatively impacted. However, I think that the impact of online learning on someone’s academic career is largely based off their teacher’s proactiveness and understanding. Some of my professors were clueless about how to use online learning technology, which is understandable. What made a difference was whether they were understanding about the fact that it made learning more difficult, too. The worst experience I had was with a professor whose teaching became noticeably subpar when we switched to online classes, but still expected the same, if not more, from students. On the contrary, I had a very sweet political science professor who was conscientious of this change, and was a little more lenient toward the beginning. As students, I think that we should be aware of how difficult it is for teachers to change the format of all of their lectures, especially after having grown comfortable with their way of teaching. My experience was that once teachers and students became aware of one another’s struggles, the transition was more easily taken in stride.”


Teachers: How has your teaching style and class itself changed?

Mrs. Sarah Sherman, RV English teacher and advisor to the Holly Spirit 

Teaching this year has been hard, but I can’t imagine how much harder it has been on students. I feel like we will look back and be amazed at how we could ever make it through something like this… Gen Z has been through a lot, and has been criticized for being disengaged and withdrawn, but I think this proves otherwise. Young people today want to learn and make things better, and I think this moment in time really emphasized that.”


Mr. David Wright, RV Ceramics and Wheel Throwing teacher

“It’s just weird to leave my [class]room and not go back, I haven’t been there in a year; it’s so weird. I really want to get back. They are fixing it up, but I don’t like teaching online. I mean, its ceramics! If it was academics it would be fine, but it’s art. If it were an art history class it would be fine. Just trying to teach a 3D thing on a computer is tough. And even though the kids are doing well with it, making things, I know they would do better if I was right in front of them demonstrating and able to help. And on top of that students signed up for wheel throwing and they’re not able to do that. It’s really disappointing, and you’d be making so many more things on the wheel.

“Another surprising and sad thing when teaching, is there’s always the kids who want to do well, always the kids who struggle and always the kids who just don’t do the work. It would be the same way [in person], except I can’t be right in their face and offer help. In some classes, I get lucky if I have two people looking at me, and I don’t want to force them. They might not be on camera for a variety of reasons, they may be insecure about their house, the way they look, or maybe they just don’t want to look at me. But I think that there are always going to be kids that are into it, and you have to want it, and want to learn.

“But on the other side, I hear from other teachers that they don’t like hybrid. It’s very difficult to teach kids in a class and on the computer at the same time. I’d rather do all online or all in person.”

Mr. Joseph Martin, RV Principal

I see the best teachers, when I observe lessons; I observe hybrid lessons, I observe remote lessons, and just informal evaluations too and observations, just from walking around the building and dropping in on classes online. The best teachers are doing what I said before… they’re forging those connections no matter what. They’re opening up with fun icebreakers, while they’re taking attendance…music playing in the background, getting you in the mood set up in the classrooms, and then a real warm-up question related to the content, English, whatever it might be, Spanish, you get the kids that are connecting…And I see kids opening up; it’s not like  [teachers are saying] ‘alright guys we’re on this virtual instruction, here you go it’s a packet, I’m gonna be back here, answer 1-38 and I’ll see you in 30 minutes,’ it’s not that. What I’m seeing is astounding in general as far as the connections that are being established online.”


What I’m seeing is astounding in general as far as the connections that are being established online.”

— Principal Martin


What we’ve learned

In a more normal context, over the span of a year, everyone learns a bit more about themselves and the world around them; that’s called growth. When stuck in a quarantined world, people have had a lot more time to realize and analyze their own lives and what has been made apparent by a worldwide disaster. 

Between what is truly important in life, the ideals of others and hidden opportunities, human growth has maintained and affected us in all different, yet unifying ways. 

What is something you’ve learned over the past year? 

Nisanur Yilmaz, freshman

Time goes by fast so try your best and accomplish your goals no matter the situation your put in”


Ryan Edwards, junior 

This past year the most important thing I have learned is to savor your time with those you choose to surround yourself with. Mental health issues have significantly increased since the isolation of the pandemic was started. It is of the utmost importance to keep yourself around those who love you, and will keep you in check with your own emotions.”


The most important thing I have learned is to savor your time with those you choose to surround yourself with.”

— Ryan Edwards


Nia Plair, junior 

I have learned that there really are people who are unintentionally ignorant, and educating others on struggles they are not facing helps unite people with differences…Everyone also learned that sympathy and empathy unite us and it’s OK if it is the only reason to do things such as wearing a mask although you are low-risk or vaccinated. Some people cancelled weddings and anniversaries while others illegally held 200 close-contact parties…And George Floyd’s death[during lockdown in June 2020] taught me that most people did not understand what I was going through as a black woman with a black father and I am glad I learned that.”


Jenna Tomasch, senior 

“At this point, I know that nothing is certain, nothing can be promised…As a volleyball player, my season was up in the air for so long, the main indoor fall sport, we were one of the riskiest, I didn’t know if my senior season I had waited and worked so hard for would happen. Then it got moved, and I was even less sure I’d get a season. Now that I’m in my season I’m not sure if or when it could get shut down. Now I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. What will get canceled next, the senior trip is gone, what’s going to happen to prom and graduation?”


Alvin Taylor, RV Class of 2020 

Over the past year, I’ve learned that even during a global pandemic, there is no excuse to not get involved and take steps towards what I want to be doing”


Even during a global pandemic, there is no excuse to not get involved and take steps towards what I want to be doing.”

— Alvin Lopez


Mrs. Sarah Sherman, RV English teacher and adviser for the Holly Spirit 

“I think one of the biggest takeaways was that we as a society took many things for granted. The old saying ‘you don’t know much you have until it’s gone’ definitely applies to me personally and to our country and culture as a whole. I also think that’s one of the biggest challenges to moving beyond this; many people don’t want to give up normalcy for the sake of protecting others. I hope we learn the importance of that moving forward.”


Mr. David Wright, RV Ceramics and Wheel Throwing teacher 

One thing that I tended to do right from the start is calling people. Just to see how they were, try to interact with people that I normally might see, and maybe even not…I’d say it also gives you an appreciation for things, like going out, seeing friends, the real simple things in life that you don’t seem to be able to do. Going to the art museum, which I used to do regularly, was taken for granted….I think for a lot of younger people, it was a realization of insecurity. Saying ‘oh my God something like this could come along and kill me or my family’ in some ways gives you a better appreciation for life, but also may give a negative view…it made some people not as vibrant about living as they might normally be.”


Mr. Joseph Martin, RV Principal 

“The most important lessons are that every child and teacher has different circumstances, and as a principal, I’ve learned that everything matters. And when I say that, [I mean that] there are kids that I would like to have come in school more, because I think they would benefit more, but they might have a situation at home that they can’t. It might be that the grandparent’s or the parent’s [are] immunocompromised, and they don’t want to risk the virus coming home. It might be that the student him or herself is compromised, or it could be something like there’s an obligation at home, ‘I need you to watch your brother and sister, and in the afternoon I need you to go to work.’

“There are things I would have never fathomed that I have to be way more sensitive to, during these times. Same thing for staff, there are some staff that can’t be here; it’s just not safe for them to be here right now, given their conditions. There are staff that have hardships, and I somehow have to balance meeting the needs of students and staff with the mandate from the government to have in-person instruction, which you can have hybrid…So I think I’ve really been reminded, all of us, including my fellow colleagues, the administrators, teachers and students; we all have so many situations we’re dealing with during the pandemic. I’ve learned so much empathy, like I’d never had in my entire life, and understanding.”


Going Down in History

Pandemics are infrequent, so while living through one is awful for many reasons, some find that the idea that they are living through history is almost an honor. At this point in our journey through COVID-19 a commonality heard among younger people is “here we go, another month, another major historical event I have to live through,” especially in so many social, political and historical events have coincided with this unprecedented time in history. Because of this, 2020 is often revered as one of the worst years ever, rife with challenges for the world to face. 

Between outbreaks, quarantine, the 2020 presidential election, the awakening of social issues, racial conflicts, natural disasters and more, the people of RV have many predictions of how future generations and history books will look back on 2020-2021 (and its consequences). 

Freshman Olivia Ruminski walks through an empty hallway between her classes. (Ella Ruminski)

How do you think this year will be remembered and what effects do you think it will have? 

Nisanur Yilmaz, freshman

This year will be remembered as a hard time for everyone and an unexpected awakening for everyone to work their way around the hardships.”


Ryan Edwards, junior

I believe this year will be remembered as a year of the world learning to deal with large scale problems in a short amount of time.”


Nia Plair, junior 

I think this year will be remembered as eye opening. People experienced a pandemic for the first time, collectively dealt with disappointment after disappointment, lost interest in looking forward to things, and realized that anything can be cancelled. 

“I am in AP US History with Mr. Heiser right now, and it is very upsetting to see that we managed to fit most events that occured over a few years in the 1960s into one summer. Protesting and rioting caused by the arrest of a black man, protesting peacefully to show that the law enforcement truly is the aggressor, encouraging voting due to the lack of change after traumatic events. George Floyd’s death taught me that most people did not understand what I was going through as a black woman with a black father and I am glad I learned that.”


Jenna Tomasch, senior 

This year is one for the history books, but you really have to have lived through it to understand it. I am sure in ten, twenty years kids will look back and wish they had lived and gone to school during the pandemic. They’ll see the glamour of online classes and virtual school and want to live that life when they get tired of their current school situation. But they won’t know the uncertainty that plagued this past year. Vaccines, return to normalcy, pending trips and events, sports. Everyday is a question of when or if these things will happen.”


This year is one for the history books, but you really have to have lived through it to understand it.”

— Jenna Tomasch


Alvin Lopez, RV Class of 2020 

“This year will be remembered as one of personal growth and introspection in the face of adversity.”


Mrs. Sarah Sherman, RV English teacher and adviser for the Holly Spirit 

“In the spirit of labeling things in our country, I feel like this will be ‘the Great Pause.’ Everyone had to stop everything so suddenly, and had to slowly relearn how to live under these new guidelines. I think that when you look at the impact of this, what will come to light are the major gaps that this has widened in our society – gaps that have always been there, but have grown because of this pause in our lives. Academic gaps, wealth gaps, racial disparities, health disparities; this pause has widened them and we will be paying for it for years…I hope stories of resilience will dominate the pages of history books, as well as lessons learned.”


Mr. David Wright, RV Ceramics and Wheel Throwing teacher

“Scary and shocking. You’re young, so you don’t realize what huge events happen and how it goes until after. I was around when 9/11 happened and when JFK and MLK were shot, all these events that happened in history, not to say those were expected, but this was such an unexpected event. Sure there were warnings, but nobody really paid attention. We notice that repeating now, too.”


Mr. Joseph Martin, RV Principal

“I think when you look back on it, I think it will be amazement at what the whole globe was tasked with, in terms of education…I think in general, we should be proud, in the United States, of what we’ve been able to do in terms of our teachers and support staff and administrators and nurses, delivering instruction for kids, I think, at RV. We’re not perfect, but our teachers did an exceptional job of learning on the fly and their willingness to meet kids where they’re at a whole new level. I think there will always be critics and skeptics, because that’s very easy.”


Looking Forward 

People have relied on the hopes of what life will be like once things are ‘back to normal’ since the very beginning in order to get them through the most difficult times – even at first, when the issue was expected to be resolved in two weeks to a month or so. Everyone looks ahead with different hopes and theories as to what the future may look like for themselves and society as a whole after the past year’s chaos. Unfortunately, many of us have terrible foresight, so we won’t know the future until it comes. What used to be a future characterized through developments for flying cars and space travel has been traded for the curiosity of when families can see their grandparents again, if they’ll be able to travel and see the world, when masks will no longer be mandated, and when people will, if ever in this lifetime, be able to feel safe again. 

Students seen walking through the hallways in between classes. All students are required to wear masks at all times in the building. (Dr. Maniglia)

How do you feel about the future of this year?

Ryan Edwards, junior 

“[I am] looking forward to a bright future with the world coming together and turning away from evil actions.”


Jenna Tomasch, senior 

I know this second, or I don’t know third, wave is starting to feel a lot more like purgatory. 

This year is kind of like going on a long hike, then putting down your heavy backpack only to step into a lake. You’re finally free of the weight of the backpack, but it’s still hard to walk with the water now around you.”


Mrs. Sarah Sherman, RV English teacher and adviser to the Holly Spirit 

I hope that, in the future, we can look back on this and see not just the struggles and failures we encountered, but also the resilience as well.”


Mr. David Wright, RV Ceramics and Wheel Throwing teacher 

“Hopefully it’s an event we can get past and say everything turned out fine. It’s a tough one. So far we haven’t had an enormous amount of personal effect, but I’ve been lucky that way, but many many many people have had to deal with that loss…We’ve been nervous, until the vaccine came, and am now feeling a lot better looking forward. I just got my first shot, and sometime within the next couple weeks I’ll get my second. It really feels a lot better with that. I wonder if [younger generations] will be happy they survived it, or be bummed out they had to deal with it.”


Mr. Joseph Martin, RV Principal 

“That’s a million-dollar question. We don’t know yet, but we’ll find out in the next one to three to five years, what the long-term effect from the pandemic has been…I keep my chin raised high and every teacher should in this building, and every kid should be because we’re doing what we can with the deck of cards we were dealt. And I think at the end of the day, when we look in the mirror, there’s integrity and a passion to reach our kids, and I’m really proud of it.”


I think at the end of the day, when we look in the mirror, there’s integrity and a passion to reach our kids, and I’m really proud of it.”

— Principal Martin



From March 13, 2020 to its one year anniversary, RV and the rest of America are in the process of absorbing the past year’s “Great Pause.” Things happened and are happening, and the main action that people can take is radical acceptance of the situation, and continue to focus on the safety of themselves and others. The continuation and realization of such a passage of time is bound to break people down and feel disorienting. But looking back on the growth achieved in the past year, these hopes and grievances unify everyone, in some shape or form, in the face of uncertainty. 




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    David WrightMar 15, 2021 at 8:32 am

    Excellent article Sara! Very well written and quite extensive. I’m impressed! I was surprised to see so much of my thoughts in the article., but I think it worked well. Thanks for including me!