Andrea Guyther — college student

Andrea Guyther shares what it was like coming back to the Island to do her online college. — Courtesy Andrea Guyther

I’m Andrea Guyther; I’m a junior at Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU), where I’m studying early childhood education and developmental psychology. When ECSU first sent us home last March, it was just supposed to be for our spring break, plus a little bit longer. They told us to pack for about two weeks. We planned to come back, even though other schools were already announcing they would be closed or remote for the semester. I remember everything being so unknown and up in the air. We were asking professors what they thought was going to happen, and they didn’t know either.

So, I moved home, and so did everyone else in my family — my younger sister and older brother. We all hadn’t been home together in a while. My brother had been living off-Island and working at an architecture firm, and my sister is a freshman at Boston College, so she was in the dorms.

Transitioning to online school wasn’t super-difficult because a lot of my professors made it easy. They’d upload videos of themselves teaching lectures. It was definitely harder to have motivation to do schoolwork, just because everything was so crazy, but professors were really lenient. Obviously, it was new to them too, so they were understanding and tried to make things as clear as possible.

We were only in school for another month or so before the semester ended, so it wasn’t super-long that we were actually online. I came home around mid-March, and the semester ended in early May. I think the weirdest thing was not being able to see all my college friends who don’t live in Massachusetts. College is really short, and it’s already flown by, so it felt like we were missing out on the short amount of time that we do get here.

There were a lot of unknowns about what the summer and next semester would look like, because they didn’t know if classes would be in-person by then or not. In past summers I’ve worked at a preschool, but that was closed for COVID, so I nannied for a family instead. I was looking after a 5-year-old, and there was less we could do together than usual. We were able to go to some playgrounds, the beach, stuff like that. A lot of the time we were just at her house, though. I felt bad that she was missing out on playing with other kids. My heart goes out to all the parents, because that was really tough.

I did hang out with two friends over the summer — that was kind of my circle. We went on a lot of walks, and got to visit a house my family owns in upstate New York, which was nice. There were some difficult parts to it too, though, and COVID made dealing with them harder. A family friend of ours passed away, and I ended up spending some time with their family after that. I had to tell the family I was nannying for that I was seeing other people — more people than I probably should’ve been, but also it was the right thing for me to do in that situation. It just made things more complicated.

This year, I’ve been living in a sort of suite with three other girls. We have our own rooms, but share a common area — it’s in the dorms. Moving back to campus in the fall, we had to go up early because they didn’t want everyone there at the same time. For most people it wasn’t a big deal, because a lot of the students at ECSU are from Connecticut, but for us it was really difficult because we had to get the ferry off and everything. It worked out OK, but it was a pain to bring everything up to my dorm, come back to the Island, and then go back again.

I had two classes in-person that semester, and three online. I did a teaching clinical in a kindergarten classroom, but I started it later than I was supposed to — there was a lot of switching and confusion about which schools could take student teachers and which ones couldn’t. It went well, but it was definitely different. All the kids wore masks and had to sit at their desks all day, which made it hard to do some of the things you’re supposed to do as a student teacher, like helping students one-on-one. Overall, the semester went by quickly. Since we’d all gone online last semester, it was an easier transition. We knew what to expect, though some professors seemed to give more work to make up for the lack of in-person experience. We also get COVID-tested on campus every week — all the on-campus students do.

Winter break was definitely strange. We went home for Thanksgiving and stayed through January. I personally felt really secluded. I wasn’t really working, and wasn’t doing schoolwork, wasn’t really seeing anyone. My family normally spends Christmas at my grandma’s house in Rochester, N.Y., but since COVID numbers were rising, we decided to stay home. That was tough. I’m 21, and before last year, I’d only spent two Christmases on Martha’s Vineyard without my entire extended family. My grandma’s getting older, so we really want to spend as much time with her as we can, but this year hasn’t allowed that.

In the middle of January, we think, my dad got exposed to COVID at his job off-Island. He came home, and my whole entire family ended up testing positive for COVID. We did have symptoms, but we were lucky that no one got too sick. My brother and I lost our sense of taste and smell — my mom tells me it’s because we didn’t take our vitamins. It’s been over a month now, and I still don’t have either. I think smell is slowly coming back, but it’s harder to tell with taste.

I tested positive four days before I was supposed to go back to school, so I had to email them. It was this huge thing. They asked me to provide all my tests, and I had to be contact-traced. Everyone I’d been in contact with got tested. Luckily, we didn’t spread it to anyone outside our family. I’d babysat the week before, so I was horrified that I’d passed it to this little baby. Somehow I didn’t — I guess masks really work.

Once I tested positive, I only needed to be in quarantine for 10 days. After that, I was allowed to go back to my dorm and start the semester. It’s been kind of a relief for my roommates, since now that I’ve had it, I probably won’t get it again. I know a couple of people I go to school with even have the vaccine, or half of it at least. My grandma got vaccinated recently too, so my mom has been able to spend time with her, which has been nice.

Since then, the semester’s been going well. I only have one in-person class, so I spend a lot of time in my room doing homework. It’s funny, looking back, that we used to get up and leave our dorms for every class. It seems so long ago and so foreign, which is weird because that’s how we’ve spent so much of our lives. I’m doing another teaching clinical where I’m able to go into a classroom. We all wear masks, sanitize, and kids are still at their desks. That’s still tough. I just look at it like I’m seeing the most difficult aspect of teaching right now — I’m learning a lot from this. When things do go back to normal, I’ll be able to do things more naturally.