Students a mix of relief, worry as school returns

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By Chandler Fattah

Schools have begun the process of reopening, and it is a back to school season unlike any we have ever seen. No one would have predicted students and teachers being banned from their classrooms in March, and no one can predict how the fall will play out now that the coronavirus has implanted itself in our lives. The pandemic has forced schools to reinvent and completely alter the way we think of school. High school students are split on how to feel about these changes; some are optimistic and eager to return to class, and others are more anxious about the safety of returning, as well as the inevitable social and academic changes.

Ellie Shoup, a rising junior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, is happy with her school’s reopening plan. SCH is planning to send all 1,060 of its students back in person, with various protocols to ensure the safety of students and staff. They are also offering an online option called SCH Flex for students unwilling to return in person. Shoup believes SCH is making the right decision in allowing its student body to return to campus.

“I think for a pandemic with a mortality rate for young people that is under 1%, it’s not that risky to go back to school if we all have masks. If restaurants, bars, and other stores are opening, it’s logical that we would reopen our schools.”

Tana Liu, another SCH junior, is more skeptical.

“I feel a bit more cautious about fully going back to school just because we do have a good amount of kids, although it is a big campus,” Liu said. “Looking at all of the schools that have opened up and had to close immediately, I don’t think it’s worth going to school and risking everyone’s safety for just a couple of days.”

Mari Reyes-Toidze, a junior at Friends Central School, feels similarly. FCS recently made the decision to start their upper school online, while giving the younger grades the option of returning in person. The school’s website cites the multitude of class options students have as one of their main obstacles to in person learning.

“I’m neutral about this,” Reyes-Toidze said. “Although it is sad that I won’t be able to start my junior year like I anticipated, I will be able to keep myself and others safe by learning from home and that’s all that really matters in the long run”.

Lia Jones, a senior at SCH, has spent her summer working at SCH’s summer camp. Jones is worried that schools might have trouble enforcing mask wearing and social distancing policies.

“I’m happy that they’re taking precautions, but I just feel like it’s unrealistic,” she said.

“Older kids are harder to control because they have more free will. So I feel like we’re going to have a lot of people who just don’t listen and a lot of people are going to get sick that don’t need to get sick.”

Another student, freshman Hans Bode, compared the new policies to pre-existing rules like dress code. He told me he didn’t think it would be difficult to enforce.

Shoup agreed, saying “I think with any rule and regulation there’s a chance that people won’t follow it, but that’s the risk with every rule we have”.

Madeline Mahoney, an SCH junior mentioned how difficult it will be for students to adapt to these new rules.

“It’s going to be hard to retrain ourselves in how we interact with our peers and especially with how we get to spend time with our friends during school,” she said. “I think it’s going to be hard to get everyone used to the new norm of sitting six feet away from our friends at lunch instead of getting to sit next to them and make Tik Toks.”

Students know but may not care about Covid

When asked why they thought their peers were less cautious about contracting the virus, the students agreed it was a lack of care rather than a lack of information.

“I’ve seen people who on one hand are saying how important the virus is on social media, and then in their next post they’re hanging out with friends. They’re saying ‘I know that this virus is important but I also just want to have a normal life as a teenager and I don’t want to be controlled by this virus’,” Bode said.

Olivia Bragitikos, a junior at Germantown Friends School, also thinks her peers feel invincible.

“A lot of young people think they’re immune to the virus, but they don’t think of the family members that they have who could easily get it and show worse symptoms,” she said.

Shoup made a similar statement.

“I don’t think not being informed is the issue with young people not following corona protocols,” she said. “I just don’t think they care”.

Teens are also feeling a lot more anxiety about returning, more so than a regular school year. Their worries include extracurriculars and cherished traditions being cancelled, as well as the barriers Covid introduces to social interaction.

“I’m worried about not getting to know teachers and new students as well when my face is obscured by a mask. I think that will definitely make interacting with people different and I think it will make interacting with people harder,” Shoup told me.

Mahoney echoed her statements, saying “I’m someone who tends to be a little more shy with asking questions and getting help from teachers unless I feel like I know them, so I see the value in going back to school initially to get to know our classes and our teachers.”

Others expressed worry about infecting their parents.

“Since I know a lot of people were traveling still and going down to the beach and not social distancing, I’m definitely worried that I’m going to come home and have something from someone else and make my whole family sick. I just really don’t want to risk it like that, but I guess I’m going to have to,” Jones said.

Liu, who lives with her grandparents, also felt like she was risking their health by going back in person.

“I live with my grandparents and they are at high risk, so I am pretty worried about that. I am planning on going back in person, but depending on how it goes, I might switch to online because my family’s safety comes first.”

Overall, students worried about being able to adapt to their new reality.

“I guess all social aspects of school will be at least a little bit different. Like they may keep the curriculum pretty much the same but group projects, lunchtime, frees, study halls, and pretty much all the things that you might experience at school with other people will be different,” Jones said.

Bragitikos brought up the difficulty of adjusting to online schooling, saying “Academically, I’m worried that my grades won’t be as good as they would be if we were fully in person”.

“For the people who struggle with change, it is a big shift,” Mahoney said.

Shoup acknowledged that there would be a lot of changes this year, but she doesn’t think they will last forever.

“I think we’re going to still try to get back to normal even if cases are still rising, because at some point you have to weigh quality of life against the rising case rate. I just don’t think people are willing to significantly alter their lives for so long. So I think even if SCH does fall online, I don’t think they would do spring online.”

In spite of all of these changes and worries, teens are resilient, and optimistic about the coming year. 

“As difficult as quarantine and corona has made things, I also think some good things have come out of it. A lot of people are learning their values, and there has also been lots of self-reflection and stuff like that. I feel like even though it’s going to be difficult to have school at home, I also think our school has enough resources to make it still feel like school,” Jones said.

Bode emphasized that as a community, students have a responsibility to look out for one another. Now more than ever we need empathy, because our actions can directly harm others.

“But I think it’s possible to have a good year as long as everyone is mindful of the virus and realizes that we’re all in this together.”

Chandler Fattah is a rising Junior at SCH Academy.

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