Before covid-19, when Isis left school, she would “just get off school.” She knew exactly what she was supposed to be doing and her teachers and principal knew as well. But in the final months of her Senior year, everything changed because of coronavirus.
Isis is eighteen years old and she just graduated as a member of the Class of 2020 from Frederick A. Douglass High School. As a member of Black Girl Rising, a project of Families and Friend’s of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, she agreed to share her story of what it was like to graduate in the midst of this historic moment of pandemic and to give us insight into what students experienced. Black Girl Rising is a group of young women ages 11-18, who provide holistic peer mentorship and organize against the systems pushing young people into the justice system.
During her senior year, Isis was taking a number of classes in her first and second semester: Physics, AP Calculus, Computer Drafting, Art, English, World History, and Career Counseling. In her second semester, when covid hit, she needed to finish just a few of them. She said the school work wasn’t a whole lot harder, but it certainly wasn’t easy to finish it either.
“In the beginning, no one knew how to give us work. There was just a lot of confusion,” Isis says. But soon, her teachers and principal were able to organize the work online and decide exactly how much work the students should be getting. “After awhile they figured it out.” For example, in her AP Calculus class, the teacher was giving them work five times a week, but then realized it was too much, and began to ask for work only three or four times. Another teacher didn’t assign any work at all. Most of the time, she would have to watch a ten-minute video, and then answer a few questions about it.
Even without a computer, Isis was still able to complete the online assignments using her phone and the data from her cell service, but she also had to overcome some other barriers.
“At first, I would forget to do the work and I’d do it on the last day. I’d think ‘I can do it tomorrow’ and it was hard to find the motivation.” Isis said many of her peers also found it difficult to motivate themselves, but most eventually completed the work because they wanted to finish school. Finishing was their motivation. But even with motivation, it also wasn’t always easy to find quiet time to focus on the work because her sister has a baby. And when asked, she also admitted that she worried about her family and their health.
Isis hoped that soon she would be able to get out and see her friends but disappointed in all the regular teenage moments that she had already missed. Her eighteenth birthday was last month and she wasn’t able to celebrate it. The hardest thing for her though, was not being able to have a graduation ceremony.
“I’m not able to have the experience that everyone else had. It feels like I did all that work for nothing.”
Yet, at a time of life, when even without covid, most graduates are experiencing a lot of uncertainty around their next steps, she still sounded sure of her future. She will continue her education at the University of New Orleans, majoring in Education. She is interested in working as a teacher and eventually wants to advance into school leadership as a principal. She recognized the power that a principal can have in helping students succeed. Before attending Douglass, she didn’t like school because of the strict rules, but did better at Douglass because it had a more relaxed atmosphere.
“The rules were crazy. I couldn’t even wear a jacket with a hood. I want to make a school where people can do better.”
Even with all of the challenges and disappointments of the past few months, Isis is still focused on her goals. There is no doubt that Isis will continue to be a powerful force in making systemic changes. Her story not only helps others understand what students are experiencing, but it also gives hope and inspires others like her to not give up. #BlackGirlsRising
The mission of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) is to create a better life for all of Louisiana’s youth, especially those involved in or targeted by the juvenile justice system. As part of that mission, for the past nineteen years, FFLIC has been mobilizing families to raise awareness of abuses in schools and youth prisons.
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