Frustration, resignation: What it's like returning to school during a pandemic
Many of the rules for a safe return seem redundant or only useful on paper
The first day of school seemed to take an eon to get here, but somehow also arrived in the blink of an eye.
I wouldn't say I was excited to get back, but there was an eagerness to get things started. There was a lot of anticipation. It felt like we were all waiting for something to drop.
Nobody quite knew what to expect from the school year. The initial plan had given us all low expectations. Hearing that things had been revamped put us all a little on edge.
Many of the rules for a safe return to school seem redundant or only useful on paper.
For example, we have to enter through specific doors, but it doesn't matter where we exit. Our classes start and end at staggered times, but we still pour into the halls en masse. For perspective, our school has more than 1,400 students. That's a lot of people navigating the halls and stairways.
There is hand sanitizer on tables outside classrooms and at each entrance into the school. The one by the door I enter through has already had the head of its pump broken.
A lot of us are nervous about the health risks, but while discussing them we sometimes bunch up in groups, starting new chains of contact. In my mind I think I should be guilty, but it doesn't resonate emotionally.
On the first day, after our homeroom teachers gave us a breakdown of the rules, we watched a few welcome back videos and then dove into our schedules.
Our timetables, divided into five semesters called quints (with two classes/day), cannot be changed once classes start. If we need to leave the classroom at times other than our bell schedule, we sign a piece of paper with the time and reason for leaving.
Each class is approximately two and a half hours long. This feels about two hours too long. At about the half-hour mark I can feel my attention span waning. Many points in the lesson have to be repeated for the students whose minds are wandering.
If we have to miss a few days of classes for any reason – it's like missing a week of school in former times. This has special significance for seniors like me, because if we don't earn the right credits we don't graduate.
With university applications looming, I feel a sort of increased pressure. I should be able to keep up with everything, but at the same time, it feels like my workload has tripled.
Fortunately for me, I've got only one class this quint. My teacher for the class actually contracted COVID-19 closer to the start of the pandemic. He's been open about his experience and it makes the risks more real to us.
In the end, we realize that for the most part, it's out of our hands.- Ben Alexander
Normal school activities like music and sports events, welcome back rallies, even just sitting in the cafeteria together, are not permitted or discouraged. The Student Leadership Council – which I am a part of – is trying to keep things positive with themed spirit days, but our options are limited.
We students want this virus gone. It has taken so much away from us. But it can be hard to always follow the rules. I recognize it would be easy to text my friends instead of talking to them, but it's still easier (and more social) to simply walk up to them.
Everything that has been implemented for safety works wonderfully on paper, but the letter of the law means nothing if we can't find the spirit to maintain it.
When students are let go at the end of the day we tend to congregate either in the parking lots or on the front lawn of the school. We mingle with friends and students from outside our classes. Around one-third of the students take their masks off the instant they leave the building.
Our social relationships have changed in subtle ways. Most people who hang out with each other tend to be of similar minds. In personal relationships, it's rare that someone would be called out.
We all tend to get along in person, but once we are at home and behind a screen we begin to voice our opinions a little more loudly, whether it be on social media or in group chats.
Through it all there are two emotions that keep coming up. The first — and most common — is frustration.
It's frustrating to know that none of the rule changes can fully protect us.
It's frustrating to be reminded of the pandemic by things like upcoming university tours going "virtual."
It's frustrating to be caught in a sort of limbo, feeling like if something major was going to happen it would have by now, but also knowing that by relaxing we could be making it worse.
The second is resignation.
I think we're all doing the best we can, but teachers and students aren't really trained to deal with this situation.
In the end, we realize that for the most part, it's out of our hands.
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