When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Capital Region in mid-March, all manner of normal life seemed to vanish in a flash: restaurants, bars, boutiques, offices and schools temporarily closed, turning many local cities into ghost towns. While many businesses have been gradually able to reopen, with reduced capacity and new health restrictions in place, schools have been a lot more complicated to get back to “normal.”
With schools closed during those first few months of the crisis, local families first had to home-school their children or simply extend their summer vacation. And when the school year started up again in September, these same families had to decide whether or not to send their children back to school full time, have them stay virtual or do a mix of the two.
One family that opted to send their child back to school this year for in-person learning was the Ballston Lake–based Dalpes. Retired New York Army National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Jim Dalpe and his wife, Lisa, felt like they owed it to their gifted son, 11-year-old Jameson, who is not your average Capital Region kid by any stretch of the imagination. Jameson, who reads, writes and speaks Chinese, in addition to English, skipped a grade in elementary school, making him the youngest student at Burnt Hills–Ballston Lake’s Richard H. O’Rourke Middle School last school year. But then the pandemic hit and put his successful run on hold. The Dalpes scrambled to find an in-person schooling solution, even applying to send Jameson to the American International School in Salzburg, Austria and the Lower Canada College in Montréal, but to no avail; once European and Canadian borders closed to US travel, Jameson’s only option was home-schooling.
When it was announced that many schools had plans to reopen in September, the Dalpes jumped at the opportunity to send Jameson to a local private school, where he’d get a top-notch, in-person education. “Jameson took the Christian Brothers Academy [CBA] entrance exam before 6th grade and scored the highest [mark] that CBA has ever had,” says his father Jim. “We decided to go to CBA this year as they are in school all day, every day.”
A talented young writer, Jameson, who was awarded first place in a regional essay contest last February, wrote down his thoughts about the pandemic while he was still waiting to see what his future held this past September. (He’s now in the 7th grade honors program at CBA.) At the time of its writing this past spring, he was just 10. We’ve included his essay on weathering lockdown and virtual learning, entitled “A Rainbow of Emotions,” below. It’s been lightly edited for clarity.
Growing up in the Saratoga region has taught me a multitude of valuable lessons, like staying away from Saratoga Springs on Travers Day and trying to get lucky with inside seating at the Philadelphia Orchestra. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much luck involved when COVID-19 struck my school, separating me from my teachers and friends.
COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, started in China and quickly infected the whole world. Under Governor Cuomo’s order to lock down state public schools, my school had to close down before the coronavirus started infecting the Saratoga region. On March 13, my teachers dispatched all of us students home with Chromebooks and textbooks in case we had to resort to remote learning. All of my school’s staff thought we would return to school in a couple days. My science teacher, Mr. North, even said, “This coronavirus is like a snowstorm; you can’t stop or predict it, but you can prepare for it.”
What started as a mere inconvenience for a few days turned out to be an enormous obstacle for the remaining school year. After weeks of online learning, my parents received an email message from Superintendent Dr. McGrath that school was going to be canceled for the rest of the school year, and we were going to start online learning. Since I was one of those kids who enjoyed traveling to school everyday, I had mixed feelings about online learning.
Soon, I missed recess and eating turkey sandwiches at the lunch table with all of my friends. Who knew that the annoying bell that rang every time I had to change my class would end up as a sound that I yearned for? The drip of a leaky faucet in the second floor bathroom, the smell of Milky Ways in my science teacher’s classroom, the colossal number of Latin and Shakespeare books in my English teacher’s library—those were just a few of the common sights, smells and sounds of my school. I was finally developing a routine for my classes and I was starting to fit in with other clubs and students, and now all of that was shot to pieces with this coronavirus.
If I had to prefer seeing my friends in real life or just seeing a moving picture of my friends on a computer screen, I would definitely choose the first option. But COVID-19 has made me reconsider. Staring at a computer screen is the only way to really talk to all of my friends and teachers safely, and even though I still can see my friends and teachers, it just isn’t the same as seeing them in real life. Fortunately, my parents allowed me to visit some of my friends on the weekends. But unfortunately, my friends and I couldn’t shake the feeling that school would never be the same again.
In order to keep students learning through the COVID-19 pandemic, our school released a new tactic that the staff had never attempted before: It was online learning on our Chromebooks. Surprisingly, I did very well during online learning and even utilized the classes and resources to my advantage. Google Classroom constantly reminded me to finish my assignments whether they were due that day, the next or even the previous week. Google Docs made documents much easier to edit and export to my teachers and classmates. And Google Mail helped me compose simple and user-friendly letters that anybody could send out. Now, I have to say that I’m a master at Google applications. The last school quarter was actually when I received the highest grades that I had ever gotten, and all of my teachers commented that I had adapted very quickly to online learning.
Just like how my science teacher compared the coronavirus to a snowstorm, I believe a rainbow will appear after all of this gloomy rain. Summertime is all about socializing with other people and traveling to fun new places. But this year, the coronavirus has created a new definition for summer: staying safe, staying with family and staying strong.