As we prepare for further weeks of social distancing and isolation, Gina Long talks to East Anglian families and young people about how spring 2020 has changed their lives.

Eastern Daily Press: Millie was due to sit her A levels this year Picture: Lisa LumleyMillie was due to sit her A levels this year Picture: Lisa Lumley (Image: Archant)

Millie Lumley, 17 - A Level student

Eastern Daily Press: Cameron Atkins was going to sit his GCSEs in early summer 2020 Picture: Melinda AtkinsCameron Atkins was going to sit his GCSEs in early summer 2020 Picture: Melinda Atkins (Image: Archant)

At the moment life for everyone feels very surreal.

This pandemic is like nothing anyone has ever seen before; yet it is real. Everyone’s lives have changed drastically, causing huge implications for so very many.

Being an upcoming A level student, a huge concern for my friends and I was our exams and how they would be affected. The government has done their very best to find a fair way to grade students, which I am sure most will be aware of and we are thankful for.

In the months leading up to leaving school forever, most year 13 students get the privilege of being able to prepare for this.

Just a few weeks ago, I thought I still had three months left before leaving somewhere that has been all I have known for the last 13 years of my life. However, when suddenly being told that I could be experiencing my last day at school ever, I felt really, really strange. It took me many days to come to terms with what was looking like my new reality. I will never experience that feeling of walking out of your final exam, proud of yourself, however well you did, knowing that you have finished. Little things in my day to day school life you take for granted suddenly become special memories that may never be re-lived again. The possibility of not having that formal goodbye and ending our school life with a celebration. I may never have the opportunity to wholeheartedly thank all my wonderful teachers and say farewell, have the signature shirt signing or experience my end of school prom.

Learning to adjust to a new ‘normal’ for me is more challenging than I would have thought. Being a very sociable, happy, positive person made it difficult for me not having constant interaction with my friends and extended family, but remembering how lucky I am to be able to stay home safely, living in a rural area, with access to open space, made me quickly feel so very thankful and put life back into perspective again. Although the coronavirus has brought many challenges, I truly believe it has taught me to be a better individual. I watch the news and see how so many people are really suffering, not just those with the illness, or related to those infected, but those that are self-isolating without access to outside spaces or companionship; it must be incredibly difficult and I have huge sympathy. I also have great admiration for all the key workers who selflessly continue to help others.

I have learnt to never take our freedom, family and friends for granted. Such simple things as being able to go and see my grandparents, my friends, to go out and about and do whatever I want, when I want to, is something that is such an enormous privilege and something I feel I will never be able to do again without thinking how incredibly lucky we all are.

Lara Cooper, mother of four

As a mother of four school aged children (from nine to 17 years), Covid 19 has had a significant impact on my family, triggering a rollercoaster of emotions including anxiety and moments of total fear and despair.

On top of feeling concerned about the crisis in general, I worry increasingly about the impact it has on my children’s education.

Whilst we now know that the pupils in Years 11 and 13 will be awarded their exam grades through a moderated assessment, what I’m concerned about is the less immediately obvious collateral damage to the younger children. The ones also at pivotal stages of their education.

My eldest Noah was due to join the training programme with the Royal Marines which is now on hold indefinitely and leaving him suspended in a sort of limbo land.

Jago, my 15-year-old son, is in Year 10 and due to sit his GSCEs next summer.

He is at a critical stage of his learning but no matter how brilliantly his school are managing home learning this does not replicate the classroom environment.

I have no idea how to ‘teach’ him higher level Chemistry or any subjects he is taking, and nor does he want me interfering!

He was due to sit his exams this month under GCSE conditions to prepare them for next summer. Disruption to this stage of his education will surely have a hugely detrimental effect on being able to cover the content of his classes and emotional preparation required.

My youngest son Cassius, aged 11, is in Year 6. His last moments of primary school were suddenly snatched from him. I am particularly emotional about this, as his next step will probably be the most significant move in his schooling as he makes the transition from his tiny village school to senior school.

Next month he was due to take his SATs exams. Like all Year 6 children, they have been working hard towards these since Year 5. He was actually looking forward to taking these tests, not just to prove he had worked hard but also for the special breakfast and longer break times that his year group were due to get treated to during exam time. An honourable privilege when you are 11.

He is now worried that when he starts senior school, they won’t know which sets to put him in and that all his work has been a waste of time.

He feels sad, he has lost connections with friends, many of whom he will not see again as they scatter in different directions. He is one of the few in his year who doesn’t have a mobile phone, something we had promised him he would receive in his final term of primary school.

It was going to be a celebration for the end of Year 6 and the move to senior school, a post- SATs trophy to exchange numbers at the same time as signing school shirts. Of course, we will still give him the promised phone but the milestone now seems rather lacklustre. The much-anticipated sharing of numbers and photos on the last day of term has been cruelly erased thanks to the crazy situation we find ourselves in.

The Year 6 summer term for Cassius was going to be full of fun – the longed-for residential trip, the leavers’ barbecue with his teachers, choosing his leavers’ hoodie and of course the preparation for the move to senior school. Cassius is lucky to have had two older brothers at the school he is moving to so for him a lack of taster days is not too daunting as he is familiar with the building, uniform etc. He is more worried about how he will catch up with all the work and how they will recap everything. He has got a valid point here because if they go back in September, they essentially won’t have had any schooling for six months. The last time he set foot in a school would have been the cocoon of his nurturing primary school.

I have every confidence that his teachers in his new school will be there to support him in his new environment but then this also places more challenges on our already overstretched teachers.

The youngest of my four, Kitty, had to perform her school play to an empty audience. Not even her brother two years above her could watch thanks to social distancing. She has enjoyed her dance lessons on Zoom, she deeply misses her friends and her teachers, she worries about catching Covid 19, even from the cars that pass our house. She will bounce back from this and remember a time that she got to stay at home with her family, where she learnt to bake on her own and how to fundraise selling rainbow pebbles for the NHS.

Home schooling, whilst working has been a challenge for me, I will not lie! Whilst I have left the 15 and 17-year-olds to find their own way to some degree, I have been ‘teacher’ to Cassius and his younger sister Kitty, nine. The first few days were a novelty, we embraced PE with Joe Wicks and ‘Drawing With Rob’, whilst navigating our way through online schoolwork and times table practice. But the excitement of our new normal soon wore off, my heart sinking every time I had to print off yet another maths sheet (we ran out of ink early on in this process!) Their ‘break times’ started to get a little longer each day as I tried to squeeze in a little more work and find some headspace. We’ve enjoyed cooking together, they have taken on more chores, their IT skills have improved – all life lessons!

The children have embraced their ‘breaktimes’ by playing on Roblox with each other which just adds to my mother’s guilt but sometimes you just need to pick your battles. Especially during a pandemic!

When this pandemic reared its head and the children were still at school, I had the news on constantly. I felt completely overwhelmed as I tried to take in every bit of information, every hour of the day. This was fuelling my anxiety and once schools closed and the children were home all day we made the decision to only have the news on first thing in the morning and in the evening. I cannot control the situation that is unravelling but I can control how I react to it, so being mindful of when I tune in and which source of news I choose to believe has helped in this awful situation.

I am very aware of how lucky my family are. We have food on the table, a safe home with a garden, it has been very easy for us to self-isolate but still get fresh air and daily exercise without risk of encountering other people.

Although the virus can attack any one of us, the harshest impact will be on the poorer communities in deprived areas.

There are parents who will not be able to ‘work from home’ but suddenly find themselves unemployed but having to pay for extra meals, increased electricity and heating bills now the home is being used more. I find it heart-breaking to think of the children who do not have family stability at home during this time, the ones who rely on their school for safety and sanctuary, for a guaranteed meal, and the ones who are now having to witness domestic abuse. The families who have no access to outdoor space and normally rely on local play parks, most of which have now been closed. I cannot for a minute comprehend what they must be going through. I am so grateful and full of admiration for our NHS front liners and all keyworkers.

The highlight of our Easter week was not the Easter Bunny’s arrival but a YouTube video message from their teachers for the children. Truly heart-warming and just what they needed in this peculiar moment in time. A little bit of normality on this emotional journey, whilst they smiled and waved, I hid the tears! I have faith that our schools will support our children when they return to school and in turn, I hope that the education system as a whole supports the teachers and the children’s future because for the next few years, I cannot see how this will ever be ‘back to normal’.

Cameron Atkins, 16, GCSE student

COVID-19 has changed my life and many other lives drastically, in a very short amount of time.

Being a GCSE student and with our examinations coming shortly, my friends and I are struggling to come to terms with the fact they are now cancelled. These examinations we have been preparing for numerous years.

Being the first ever year in GCSE history to have our examinations cancelled made us feel many different emotions.

Many, including myself, felt a massive weight taken off our shoulders as the exam stress was gone. But shockingly many were angry, as they believed they could perform better in exams and achieve a higher grade.

All year 11 students had many queries about how we would receive our grades, and after large amounts of speculation, it was revealed that they would take all our class work from the past two years which was a massive relief.

It’s crazy to think that just three weeks ago I was preparing for these examinations and taking a large step into life.

It’s also saddening that I won’t have that sensation of leaving the examination hall after completing the final exam with a smile on my face knowing that I am finally done and ready to start a new chapter.

COVID-19 has brought large amounts of uncertainty into my life. This includes many things such as: I may no longer have prom, which we were all excited for. It would’ve been a group celebration with all my fellow classmates on completing the final year of school.

It’s also not knowing whether I’ve already had my last day of year 11. This would leave many of us disappointed as we didn’t say a proper farewell to our teachers and other class mates.

My grades being determined on class work means I can’t do anything to better them and the future is now uncertain as I need to achieve the correct grades to get into my desired sixth form.

I believe that everyone is finding it hard to come to terms with the recent news of COVID-19.

Many, including myself, struggle being stuck at home all day long and being a very sociable and bubbly person, who loves being around friends and family makes it even harder, but this is the norm for all now and is so for a very good reason. On the positive side we can all use this time to our advantage and better ourselves as people. It is a time where we can complete the tasks that we have been procrastinating about. Personally I feel blessed to be living in the countryside with plenty of space to use. And feel greatly sorry for those who live in cities and are trapped inside 24/7. Us who are blessed with these assets should all realise how lucky we truly are. I feel as a person that I am far more grateful for the things I have in my life and that I will never take being able to see my friends and family for granted ever again.