September 28, 2021

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What’s It Like to Be Back in School?

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Maybe your school started in early August, like schools in Atlanta. Or maybe, like schools in New York City, your first day isn’t until mid-September. You might be wearing a mask or you might not. Or you might live in a place where the rules keep changing.

For those of you who have started school, what is it like to be back? If you haven’t returned yet, what are you looking forward to when you do? What, if anything, are you dreading?

In an Aug. 20 article, “A Pandemic First Day of School in California,” our colleague Soumya Karlamangla shares first day of school images from across the state, as well as some of the emails people sent her about how the big day went. She writes:

The first day of school is stressful under the best of circumstances: picking the right outfit, navigating hallways and making new friends.

And that’s when there isn’t a pandemic.

Across California, millions of children have returned to classrooms, including more than 600,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District who started classes on Monday.

The first day, for many the first time back in a classroom since March 2020, was both monumental and oh-so ordinary. Yes, there were masks and staggered lunches, but also reunions among buddies, tearful goodbyes with parents and confusing math problems.

The article includes a poem by Ashley Ko, a high school senior in Saratoga, Calif. Here is an excerpt:

Walked into school, 9-12 swarming like bees
(Luckily, I did not get a heart attack)
I was pretty close to the parking lot, had many thoughts
Of turning back until …
(Do I hug? Uhh, do I awkwardly stand 6 ft away?)

Sitting in AP Language & Composition, forgetting
that I walk into a classroom.
Not a ZOOM link.
30 minutes into class.
(I miss my cat.)
40 minutes into class.
(I miss going to the bathroom
Without an e-pass.)
50 minutes into class.
(I miss my snack pantry,
quite desperately)
60 minutes into class.
(I need to switch my pants
Into sweatpants, RIGHT NOW)
70 minutes into class
(I can not wait to go home.)

I still have 2 more classes to go.”

It also includes these thoughts by Jesus Gonzales, a high school statistics teacher:

“By the end of the day, having students in my class, all masked correctly, talking to each other and discussing a statistics problem; eating lunch with my fellow teachers; hearing announcements over the intercom — I felt something that I have been missing this last year and a half: hope as well as an inner sadness for lost time.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Has school started for you? Were you nervous to return? How is it going so far? What has been especially good — or especially bad — about being back?

  • If you have just returned to school after months of attending class online, can you relate to some of what Ashley Ko writes in her poem, above? What internal thoughts were you having as you went about your day?

  • If you haven’t started the school year yet, what are you looking forward to — and what are you dreading?

  • The article describes the normalcy of school this year as “both monumental and oh-so ordinary.” If you are back, do you agree with that description? Why or why not? Did you feel anything like the “hope as well as an inner sadness for lost time” that Jesus Gonzalez describes above?

  • Whether you’re back or not, take a minute to think about the role of school in your life. What do you think you personally gained and lost over the last 18 months as a result of having ordinary school disrupted? Why?

Learn more about Student Opinion here and find all of our questions in this column. Teachers, see how you can incorporate this feature into your classroom routine here.

Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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