When Kaia S. ’21 heard San Mateo County’s shelter-in-place announcement this Monday, the first thing she did was send a mass text to her friends’ group chat. The second thing was to practice Bach’s “Prelude in C” on the piano.

“I just did not really process it,” Kaia said. “Those couple of days leading up to the shelter-in-place had been so filled with information that my way to process it was sending it to my friends so that if I had opinions or a reaction, someone else would respond with other information or a point of view that I hadn’t thought of.”

The COVID-19 pandemic—which has hit California particularly harshly (the state has the third most cases in the nation, as of March 26) with over 1,000 cases—is expected to worsen in the coming weeks even with the wide-ranging local and state responses. In an open letter to President Donald Trump, California Governor Gavin Newsom wrote that an estimated 56% of the population, over 25 million people, were expected to contract COVID-19 in the

next eight weeks. Additional concern has been expressed for the large homeless populations in San Francisco and Los Angeles, who remain distinctly susceptible due to decreased access to official testing kits, adequate existing and COVID-19 care, and isolated housing to mitigate spread.

Even before Newsom’s official statewide order for Californians to remain in their houses yesterday, the state had begun shuttering itself into a lockdown. Nearly 99% of schools had closed as of Tuesday according to Politico, and the “shelter-in-place”—the “stay-at-home” order’s precursor—was administered locally in a number of counties in and outside the Bay Area, including San Mateo. The orders, in addition to sending workers of “non-essential” businesses home in droves, are estimated to cumulatively affect over six million public school students, in addition to a vast majority of those attending independent school.

Nueva, which suspended on-campus learning last Thursday after a flurry of mounting trips and event cancellations, was among the Bay Area schools to shut down over the past few weeks.

“It’s all up in the air. That’s the best way I can describe it, really.”

Although the school initially announced a week of planning for faculty and no school for students, remote learning was piloted this Wednesday and Thursday for its first two days of largely explorational classes. Full classes as a part of the Remote Learning Plan (RLP) officially start Monday, March 23, and classes, formerly 75 minutes, are now capped at 60.

Since the school closure and shelter-in-place order, students and their families have been craving updates. 

“I’m having a lot of questions now,” Kaia said. “I wish the school was reaching out to us more, but that’s not necessarily a critique because I know that information is changing so quickly, and sometimes we assume that they have information, but they might not at all.”

To Alex N. ’20, uncertainty is one of the defining aspects of the current situation, especially as seniors progressing through their final semester, toward the senior retreat, prom, graduation, summer plans, and eventually college—events teetering on the fine edge between their current postponed or on-notice status and outright cancellation. A school reunion that Alex was particularly looking forward to has already been cancelled, and everything else, as he described it, “is all up in the air.”

“That’s the best way I can describe it, really,” he said. “I’m accustomed to anything happening at this point.”

The loss of these activities as well as general social interaction has given him more time to work on his popular YouTube channel Technicality and promotion of his recent book; however, the benefits are outweighed by the disadvantages.

“As I’ve gotten older, as much as I do love hiding away in my room working on Technicality, I’ve been prioritizing just spending time with friends outside of school more and more. These are going to be our final three months as high school seniors. This is now or never if you want to do anything in high school that you’ve been wanting to do. It’s very fleeting,” he said. “At first [before shelter-in-place], I was grateful that I got time off, because then finally I can be with the people who are going to define my high school years, but now I have to socially distance both morally and legally. It’s really rough.”

Like many other students, he has relied on the internet to connect with friends. Conversations will often turn towards news and politics, especially in the time when information about public safety both has a highly personal impact and is constantly in flux. Several students, including Alex, Kaia, Steven H. ’21, and Luca L. ’22, are a part of group texts in which students will send articles or news alerts, often right when announcements or events happen.

“When trips got cancelled, I was pinged on my Telegram [text platform] before I even opened up my email. That kind of thing typically happens,” Steven said.

While Luca sees the benefits of staying up-to-date on news, he also expressed concern about the sheer volume of circulated information.

“We’re all following the news and seeing what’s happening around the world and it’s starting to get normalized because it’s so present in our news and our media,” he said, mentioning that mindset could lead people to treat the situation like a joke. “It’s just the new normal.”

“It’s just the new normal.”

Student’s desensitization to breaking news around the virus has become a common reaction; Alex said the onslaught of information combined with the series of cancellations made him “more emotionless” toward the situation over time. A number of students already expected that the school would undertake measures in response to the epidemic. Students in Steven’s friend group even voted in a chat poll on when they believed the school would shut down a week before the fact. 

By the end of the first week of shelter-in-place and RLP, students are still grappling with the new structure of the day and routines within them. While it’s produced some benefits—Alex, for one, now has no commute and can wake up two hours later than his usual time—it’s also created boredom for a number of students, as well as other challenges.

Campus closure, for instance, has thrown some arts and sciences projects that require in-studio, -lab, or I-Lab work into precarious positions. While some science research students were able to access campus to preserve potentially perishable projects early in the week, it’s unlikely that on-campus work will continue. 

Student athletes face a similar predicament; aside from the suspensions of school sports, tournaments and practices for outside teams have also been thrown into jeopardy or have been outright cancelled, causing disruptions in college recruiting and related industries.

But on a more micro level, students used to exercising every day—even just from walking around campus or to and from the train station—have found themselves stuck inside the house.

“I was playing tennis for Nueva, and just last week we were doing our last match. It just sucks because I can’t continue my tennis season,” ssid Luca, who still tries to stay active by running a mile every day on his treadmill. “It’s something different because I have to actually commit to exercising rather than just playing tennis or walking around during the day. If we had normal school we’d be doing that and being outside, but now I’m missing it.”

Even with the inconveniences, however, students understand the importance of both the school’s and the government’s measures. Pre-shelter-in-place, Kaia used to go to the gym with her parents and walk to and from the train station; the loss of exercise has affected her sleep as well as her ADHD, which is making her “stir-crazy.” 

“I am not enjoying it, but I’m proud of our government for doing it because I feel like a lot of people are not taking it seriously enough,” she said. “I’m also really glad [shelter-in-place] is happening, and I probably would have been critical of our government if we were not doing it.”

Some students including Nickel have been hesitant about distance learning, and how it may not be as conducive to the style of learning Nueva has built.

“Learning is ultimately a social experience. You can teach yourself anything, right? You can go online and learn whatever you want, but the power of a good education is in the social interactions that happen between the students and the teachers as well as students and other students,” Alex said.

Luca similarly said that while digital classes made learning more difficult, he understood its necessity and appreciated the work put into reforming the curriculum.

“When [Nueva] first announced that they would be moving online, I was really skeptical. A big part of what we have is interaction and live, hands-on activities. Moving to an online space where we can do any hands-on learning seems like a stretch for a lot of classes like, for example, chemistry and Design With Impact. But I’m grateful for the teachers for their hard work in trying to change their entire curriculum to form to this format,” Luca said. “It’s only been a day and a half, so we’ll see how it goes. But so far, it’s going pretty well. The teachers are as prepared as they can be to change.”