by Julia Wong, Staff Writer, October 2020

Both at Nobles and globally, the effects of the pandemic on physical health have dominated discussion. However, the measures taken to ensure physical health have undoubtedly impacted mental health by changing the way we interact. Friends you used to see on a daily basis now are six feet away or even strictly through a screen. Many studies have linked feelings of isolation to a drastic increase in depression, particularly amongst teens. At Nobles, students are handling this new social environment in many different ways.

The “in-person” part of hybrid school has been greatly appreciated by the student body. Alex Cheng, Class VI, noted that the in-person days are vital in forming new relationships at school. “I’m really thankful to be able to go in-person, and I think if they did full virtual, it would be a little harder to make friends.” Further, he mentioned how the virus has allowed him to meet lots of new people, and prevented the formation of solid cliques. “I’ve gotten to know more people, even if it’s not as [strong] of a friendship.” Drew Johnstone (Class III) noted another benefit of the hybrid model. “The decreased time spent in school… means that on the flipside, I’m spending more time talking to and seeing kids that don’t go to Nobles.” With the uptick in the use of social media as a means of communication, students now have more time to foster friendships outside of school. However, despite the sunny outlook of many students, there is undoubtedly a darker side to corona-age relationships.

Vivian Tao (Class I) has been an outspoken student on COVID safety; however, they are not immune to the negative effects of distancing. “I used to have a lot of people I talk to, but now I only talk to a few people,” they said. “I’ve accepted that. You don’t get to talk to your acquaintances much, but I’m still sticking with my friends.” Contrasting Cheng’s seventh-grade experience, in returning grades, friend groups seem to be tightening, reinforcing Nobles’s natural inclination towards cliques. Further, differing levels of commitment to safety protocol have undoubtedly created rifts in the school community. When asked if peers’ social distancing habits affect their relationships, many students confirmed that unsafe behavior changed their view of their classmates. Tao, passionate about the topic, was steadfast in their response. “100%, especially now. It says you do not care for others,” they stated, going on to note, “I’ve had some strange relationships because of it, but it is something that I feel strongly about. Going to a large gathering, you made that decision. I think that’s a decision, not a mistake.”

However, amongst the student body, two subsets have been affected in more unique ways: new students, and all-virtual students. James Lu (Class II) is one of the many Nobles students who experienced joining a new school in the middle of a pandemic. Lu notes that the hybrid format has allowed him to stay in touch with friends from his old school. While this can be beneficial for maintaining connections, it presents new students with a difficult choice. Lu posed the question: “Where do I put my time? Because I’m still part of older communities, [but] I’m also wanting to integrate into communities at Nobles.” Friendships are an integral part of the Nobles experience, and as the student body spends more time away from campus, the choice to invest time into school relationships must be a conscious one. When asked if there was anything students could do to help new students integrate, Lu was quick to explain that his classmates have been friendly; however, he said: “Especially since I’m somewhat introverted, I have only a few people to talk to because I don’t reach out that often.”

The second affected demographic is the fully virtual students. “I think definitely everyone is feeling isolated right now because of the pandemic, but [for] virtual students, there’s that additional layer of separation,” Tao said. “It’s like you’re watching it through a glass wall, watching someone else have class.” However, Tao had a very simple solution to the issue: “Honestly, just talk to us.”

This sentiment goes beyond those all-virtual students. Lu echoed Tao’s thoughts: “Just talking with people [is important], however that works out.” With a pandemic preoccupying our waking hours, it’s important to remember that focusing on friendships, relationships, and mental health is never selfish. Johnstone even went so far as to state, “I’ve honestly gotten closer with a lot of my friends due to COVID.” Regardless of how you are dealing with COVID-19, there is always an opportunity to find the brighter side. “Kids are excited to see each other after having been forced apart for so long,” Johnstone said. So we should enjoy our time on campus, with our friends, for as long as we can.