Life after lockdown: What it’s like for a South Auckland student returning to school

7:56 pm on 14 November 2021

Gardenia Lemoa is a year 12 Māngere College student among the thousands of senior high school pupils across Auckland who returned to school last month. She recounts what it's been like to be back. As told to Justin Latif.

Year 12 Māngere College student Gardenia Lemoa.

Year 12 Māngere College student Gardenia Lemoa. Photo: Justin Latif, LDR

When I first heard the news that we were going back to school, I was really confused. Like what were they thinking, given there have been so many new cases announced each day. To me it seemed like an unnecessary risk to go back to school particularly since there are still some students who aren't vaccinated, and so returning could just add to the positive cases.

But to be honest I was also looking forward to going back. Looking forward to seeing my friends and teachers again and also just excited to be studying for my exams, without the distractions of home.

On that first day everyone was so excited to see each other. But the teachers were telling us to keep a one metre distance, and it was really hard not greeting my friends with a hug.

We started back with an assembly, but we just watched it via Zoom from our classrooms. We have to wear masks for the whole day, which does make breathing harder. At lunch we're not allowed to play any sports, so we just walk around and get a bit of fresh air.

The school lunches are back on, which was cool. We had mashed potatoes and spaghetti bolognese on the first day.

Class was weird. There were only about seven of us in most of my subjects, when there's usually over 20, so it was really quiet.

I asked around and a lot of students couldn't come in because they are working now and I know some aren't coming back at all. They're working in construction, in supermarkets or in Airport Oaks [an industrial area near the school].

I know for some of my friends, they are going to try and come in once a week, and others will come in once they've caught up on the assignments. Before school started back, lockdown was all about juggling schoolwork, chores, and because my parents are essential workers, looking after my four younger sisters. My two youngest sisters are at primary, one is at intermediate and one is at Māngere College with me. But we've all got laptops or tablets provided by our schools to do online learning. We all work together in the lounge, but my sisters can be really loud so it's been hard to focus at times. We've also been able to go for walks, either around Māngere mountain or Mt Wellington or just down our street.

Thankfully, I've managed to finish all my internal assignments for NCEA, and so now I'm just studying for my exams, which will be in three and four weeks' time.

I know it's been harder for some of my friends, particularly those without wifi. Because most of the work is online and they can't access it, they're behind in their credits and they're worried that they won't be able to get enough to pass NCEA. And I know some who are too far behind and won't come back to school.

Both my parents are vaccinated and since my mum is a nurse, it's helped me realise how serious Covid is. So I've also been helping out with the Rally Your Village vaccination event at the Vodafone Events Centre. It was for six days and we helped get over 7000 people from South Auckland vaccinated.

I got involved through my church, and it was actually so fun. We were just helping to manage all the cars and giving out food and prizes. There were so many people and on the last day the queue of cars ended up blocking the entrance to the motorway, so we had to call the police in for assistance. The only sad thing was hearing that people thought we were bribing people to get vaccinated, which wasn't the case at all.

At school most people are vaccinated, but there is a small group who aren't. I've just tried to encourage them to get reliable information and not just rely on what's on social media and most of all, think of their families.

It's definitely disappointing how the year is coming to an end. I'm pretty sure we won't have a school ball or any graduation assembly but we also know because we're year 12, there's always next year.

I can't wait for things to get back to normal and would just say to anyone out there still unsure about vaccinations, do it for your family.

The final thing I want to say is that I respect that there is a small percentage out there who do not want to get vaccinated and are very much against it, especially those who go out to protests. But at the end of the day, those who are unvaccinated are not only putting the whole of New Zealand at risk but also themselves and their families.

I know many want lockdown to go down to level one so they can go out and see their families, wear no more masks, go to the mall and movies and travel to other countries etc. But the only way we can do that is if we are vaccinated, so let's put the negative energy aside, get vaccinated and drop our cases in our country. And if you still don't want to get vaccinated then please stay home to save lives.

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