In Metairie, a high school senior navigates online school and college prep amid COVID-19

By Dariel Duarte

Boris Alarcon was born in Guatemala and moved to New Orleans in 8th grade. He finished his senior year at Grace King High School in Metairie remotely in May 2021. (Photo by Dariel Duarte)

This profile is part of The Lost Year, a Lede New Orleans series documenting the stories of local K-12 students and educators as they returned to in-person classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The series was written and recorded by fellows in our Spring 2021 Community Reporting Fellowship.

Boris Alarcon turned to his sketchbook when the repetitive routine of online learning got overwhelming last fall. Alarcon, who graduated from Grace King High School in Metairie in May 2021, recalls one drawing in particular: an abstract series of concentric grayscale spheres sketched in graphite pencil. The sketch symbolizes what life felt like for him as an online student, a feeling he had trouble putting into words, he said.

“I had to wake up. Turn on the computer. Stay there for a couple of hours. Do my homework. Go to sleep,” Alarcon said. “Wake up, and the cycle repeats itself.”

Alarcon, 18, was born and raised in Guatemala. He moved to New Orleans with his parents in 2016 when he was in the 8th grade. Spanish is Alarcon’s first language and he spoke English before coming to Louisiana. Still, adjusting to life in an American middle school was tough, he said.

“I was very insecure, and that limited me from meeting new people,” Alarcon said.

Alarcon, a determined, quiet student, said he had a similar isolating feeling when local public schools shut down amid the pandemic in March 2020, the tail end of his junior year. He liked being able to wake up later on school days, but missed hanging out with friends outside of class.

“I didn’t have the support of my friends. I felt alone,” Alarcon said. “They talked to me to get help on homework, not just ask me how I was doing.”

Watch Boris Alarcon share what it was like to complete his senior year of high school online while preparing to enter college amid a pandemic. (Video by Dariel Duarte)

He often had trouble understanding what his teachers were saying over video conferencing tools. He was more hesitant to speak up and ask his teachers questions online, instead relying on chats with classmates for help. Looking back, he wishes his teachers had assigned more group work to help bring students together.

“The learning environment was complicated. You didn’t have as much help as you did pre-pandemic,” Alarcon said. “Teachers helped you, but not as much as they wanted to.”

Alarcon continued online school this spring. He and his family didn’t feel safe about returning to in-person class, he said. Alarcon said transportation was one of his biggest hurdles as the 2020–2021 school year ended. With both parents working and no bus to take him to school, he rode his bicycle 20 minutes from his neighborhood to Grace King to return the Chromebook his school provided for remote learning and to attend graduation prep meetings for seniors. Fortunately, he was able to attend graduation and receive his diploma in-person in May.

Alarcon started college in person at Loyola University New Orleans this August. He’s excited to meet new people this fall and he plans on studying computer science. Alarcon said he’s always loved logic and solving puzzles. The pandemic gave him time to explore his artistic talent and “understand life in different ways,” through drawing and making videos, he said.

“It led me to understand new qualities that I didn’t know I had,” Alarcon said.

He also gained a new appreciation for all the teachers in his life. Alarcon said he’s ready to move on after a tough year, but he wishes he had more time to thank his high school teachers for their work before and during COVID-19.

“I never got the chance to thank my teachers in person, but I really appreciate the work teachers do for us,” Alarcon said. “I’m really grateful to every teacher that has taught me.”

Dariel Duarte is a Spring 2021 Lede New Orleans Fellow. Duarte is a writer and videographer based in New Orleans. He graduated from Grace King High School in Metairie.

This story is available to republish under a Creative Commons license. Read Lede New Orleans’ publishing guidelines here.

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