Shifting my mental picture of what the typical ‘high school experience’ is

adjusting to high school in a pandemic

LillyCope image
The author, pictured on the far right, at her first cross country meet.

Growing up as the youngest of four, I watched each of my older siblings enter their teenage years with all of the friends, drama, confusion, and stories it brought along. I always looked forward to this same experience. The entire first half of my eighth grade year I spent practically dreaming of the day I would attend high school.

When COVID first hit, I did not anticipate how drastically different my teenage experience would be from that of my siblings. Going into freshman year of Rochelle Zell [Jewish High School] with cohorts, social distancing, and masks shocked me. Although the school strove to provide students with a "normal" school year, the first few months of high school bore little resemblance to the experience I had heard about and witnessed in years past.

Without overnight trips or all-school tefillah services, I found it difficult to cultivate a sense of community or Jewish identity. Looking at teachers and classmates through a screen or mask made it difficult to form strong connections and relationships. I could feel a sense of disappointment in my family and friends, as everyone was forced to make sacrifices, losing out on experiences they had looked forward to for so long. I felt lost without my support network of community and friends.

Going into my sophomore year, however, I felt excited about the prospect of a semi-normal year. Although there were numerous bumps in the road, the typical "high school experience" gradually returned. With every rival basketball game, school dance, and silly tradition that was reinstated, I felt a growing sense of belonging in the community. 

With the pandemic still a reality, I adjusted to new ways to connect with my Judaism, and discovered how to strengthen that part of my identity without weekly Shabbat services. I learned that even without a typical teenage experience, I could embrace the parts of my life that have grown and changed, and feel excited about these changes going forward.

Now, going into my junior year at Rochelle Zell, I feel so much gratitude for the people I have met, and experiences I have had over the past two years. I recognize that the "teenage experience" can and should be different for everyone, and although it may have been interrupted and altered by the pandemic, it certainly has not been lost. 


Lilly Cope is a junior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School in Deerfield. 


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