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The balancing act: What it’s like to be a high schooler and essential worker

Seventeen-year-old Ben Coulimore isn’t just a full-time high school student. He’s also an essential worker. So it should come as no surprise that the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed every aspect of his life.

“I’m used to going to class every single day and seeing everyone I know, and it’s totally different from being all online,” said Coulimore.

He has been balancing school and work, as well as attempting to keep up with some of his usual activities. Video games are easy enough, but sports are more difficult. As a junior at Hockinson High School, Coulimore takes part in the Running Start program, so he takes all his classes at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. The courses earn both high school and college credits.

As coronavirus shuts down schools for the rest of the academic year and leaves the upcoming school year uncertain, Digital Trends is following students and teachers as they adapt to our new normal.
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Transitioning to online classes has been an adjustment, especially for classes like Algebra II. “It’s definitely way easier for me to have someone teaching it to me in person rather than just like watching videos on YouTube to try to learn how to do it,” Coulimore said. Classes that are more reading or textbook-based have been easier — but he’d still rather be in person than online.

The school has already announced next quarter will be fully online again, so Coulimore is taking that into consideration as he chooses his classes. He’s trying to complete his associate’s degree, however, so he’ll need to meet those requirements as well. While he plans to spend some time this summer trying to figure out what he wants to do after he graduates, “I’ve been more worried about trying to get my school work done,” he said.

Coulimore also has a job at a nursing home. Before the pandemic, he was a server in the home’s restaurant. Now, residents have to stay sequestered in their rooms to prevent the potential spread of the illness. Every day that he’s working, Coulimore has to fill out a questionnaire explaining where he has been and whom he has come in contact with. He also has his temperature taken before he can deliver meals to residents’ rooms.

“They definitely do get lonely in there by themselves,” he said. “So it’s nice for them to be able to talk to people, and sometimes we also do write cards for them and stuff.”

As if the stresses of school and work weren’t enough, all the usual celebratory events that would’ve otherwise offered Coulimore a brief respite have been nixed. The end of the year is usually when his school has prom and spirit week, but both events had to be canceled for safety reasons. “We did do a school spirit week over, like, Instagram, where people would dress up and like post pictures on Instagram,” he said. “So that was kinda fun.”

Home can be busy as well. His mother is a realtor and his father is a firefighter, so Coulimore has been pitching in to watch his three-year-old sister. “As long as I make sure I keep my priorities straight and get all my work done in a timely manner, then I usually have time to watch her,” he said. His two other sisters are living at home as well.

Ben Coulimore
Ben Coulimore

In his free time, Coulimore usually plays pickup basketball with his friends. “I’m missing that the most right now,” he said. While he has met up with friends a few times in person, activities with a lot of close contact, like basketball, are off the table. Instead, he’s been running. “That’s basically, the only thing I can do right now,” Coulimore said.

There are still a few ways to keep in touch with friends from a distance. He does Zoom calls with his youth group on Wednesdays and also plays video games, including Call of Duty and NBA 2K. As summer draws closer, he knows he may not be able to do the usual activities, like swimming, boating, and hanging out in parks. “I’m missing stuff like that, too,” he said.

Like many others, the quarantine has distorted Coulimore’s sense of time. “Everything feels like it’s moving slower. The weeks feel longer,” he said. There just isn’t as much as to do. “But as long as we get through this and everything turns out fine, it’s all for the good,” he added.

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