PARK RAPIDS, Minn. — Nevaeh Hollingsworth was 14 years old when Minnesota's lockdown and restrictions due to COVID-19 began last year. During the time when all schools in the state were closed, Nevaeh decided to make her neighborhood better by getting outside and picking up litter.

Now 15 and in ninth grade at Nevis School, she said one of the most important things she learned in the past year was the value of true friends.

“I’ve made new friends and I’ve lost a lot of friends,” she said. “I’m in a smaller group of friends now and it’s a two-way friendship. I try to keep in touch and they try to keep in touch. It’s not just one person trying to feed the friendship and the other person not trying at all. You got to see people’s true colors when all they did was sit on their phones because of the quarantine. You got to see who they really are.”

She said the friends in her smaller group are true friends. “They’re always there for me and when we hang out we’re not just on our phones the whole time,” she said. “These friends are a lot better to me than the friends I’ve had before.”

That's not all Nevaeh and her family in Park Rapids, Minn., learned over the past year.

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“I learned that online learning is very difficult in some subjects,” said Nevaeh's brother, Nakhi Hollingsworth. “In math, I’m a very hands-on learner, but other classes like English were easier to do at home.

“I like school way better now. Communicating during online school was very different, too. Some classes we did Zoom, and we had to turn the camera on when we were testing.”

The biggest changes since last year for the 16-year-old Nevis junior were getting his license and a job at Pizza Hut.

Nevis students Heather White, left, Doug White, Nakhi Hollingsworth, Devon Jordan and Marlow Simkins gathered to clean out their lockers at Nevis School before the state lockdown began in March 2020. (Submitted photo)
Nevis students Heather White, left, Doug White, Nakhi Hollingsworth, Devon Jordan and Marlow Simkins gathered to clean out their lockers at Nevis School before the state lockdown began in March 2020. (Submitted photo)

“And having to wear a mask everywhere I go,” Nakhi said. “I’m looking forward to the time when I can greet my friends face to face in school without wearing a mask and not having to keep our distance.”

Nevaeh said adjusting to changes at school was challenging. “We have been distance learning, hybrid learning and now we’re back at school full time,” she said. “My grades were affected.

“When we were in distance learning, my grades were really bad. In hybrid, they were OK, and now being back in school full-time my grades are back up again. I like being in school better because there aren’t as many distractions for me.”

Mother Naoma Mikel said she is very happy her kids are now all back in school.

“My little guy Ningozis was in pre-K, so they didn’t really do much during the lockdown, so I feel like he missed out on a lot,” she said. “For my older kids, their grades were terrible. The learning just wasn’t there.

“I also realized that I’m not smarter than a freshman in high school when it comes to math. Google has come in handy, and a neighbor who’s a senior in high school helped tutor my kids. We’ve made calls to Grandpa for homework help, too.

“It’s hard to be a parent and a teacher. You need to reach out to resources. And then dealing with the kids emotionally. They were stressed out and couldn’t see their friends. They were so excited to go back to school!

“It feels so much more normal now. They love it. They don’t even care that they’re in the same classroom all day. Kids are resilient.”

Family bonds and grows

Nevaeh said the family has also grown closer over the past year.

“We’ve been spending a lot more time together and don’t get that annoyed with each other,” she said. “My biggest advice for people my age and younger than me is to try and be a kid as long as possible. And on those holidays and other times you’re with your family, don’t take them for granted because they go by really fast.”

Nakhi agrees.

“Maybe the pandemic brought our family a little closer at first when we were all home,” he said. “And I’ve most definitely gotten closer with the family who are staying with us. I sometimes take care of the kids, play with them. They’re pretty fun.”

A big change for the family was taking in four foster children. Mikel said her husband, Mike Andreoff, was able to help more because his lawn care and maintenance services were not needed as much with so many people spending more time at home.

“He was home for most of the winter with me, and about a month ago took a job driving truck because there hasn’t been enough work,” she said. “Because he was self-employed, he didn’t get unemployment.”

Mikel is also working full time now.

“It has been quite a year of changes for everybody,” she said. “It has been really hard as a parent. We have family movie night, family board game night. For a while it was too cold to go outside. I’m so glad we finally got spring weather so everyone can spend time outside again.”

She said their family has adapted to the “new normal.”

“When we go out, for everyone’s protection, even the 3-year-old understands we need to wear masks,” she said. “Adults wonder how long we’ll have to do this. I don’t anticipate things changing any time soon.”

Mikel said the bonus this past year has been spending more time together as a family. “We shared breakfast, lunch and dinner at the table together every day during the shutdown,” she said. “That was fun. But my kids were happy to get back to school with their friends, and I was happy to have adult conversations again.”

One thing hasn't changed since last year: Nevaeh said she still picks up trash in the neighborhood every once in a while when she's out rollerblading or riding her bike.