The Chaotic Mess of Back-to-School Season, According to High Schoolers
School shouldn’t be a life-and-death situation, but it undeniably is right now. As the back-to-school season begins and with no consistent protocols laid out by state and federal governments, schools across the country are deciding whether to continue remote learning, pivot back to in-person classes, or feature some combination of the two.
GEN spoke with four high schoolers about going back to school in the middle of a practically unmitigated pandemic. Their anxieties were twofold: They’re worried about losing out on education opportunities and the typical high school experience.
Nikita, 16, a junior in Milton, Georgia
I go to public school and we were like cats in the air for a while; we were under the impression we would go back to school full-on. But then in July, they decided to switch to completely online. Since then, we’ve been using Microsoft Teams to connect with teachers. We still follow a semi-regular schedule. But I know that other Georgia schools and different counties are doing hybrid days; some are even completely open.
It is weird that the whole state isn’t uniform and there’s a whole problem with the mask requirements. I don’t think schools in Georgia can technically require it because of the way the governor has been regulating it. I know a lot of people in different counties where people will still come into school even if they’re suspected of having a fever and things like that. I just wish everything was kind of on the same page so everybody felt safe. But that’s not the case.
I am somebody who really enjoys going to school, but it doesn’t seem like anybody’s interested in meeting in-person for extracurriculars. And to be honest, I’m not either. I’m a junior, so this is kind of like a stressful year as it is. I know a lot of other juniors are all piling on the AP classes and SATs this year and we’re trying to think about college, but that’s kind of been derailed. I’m very worried that we won’t be able to move along as far as we normally are able to. If anything, I think the classes are easier right now because teachers are still adjusting. Definitely still feels haphazard.
Reyna, 14, a freshman in Lancaster, California
I go to a private school and basically we’re going online this year, but they don’t know if we’re going to go back to classrooms in the future. It’s probably going to be a little harder than it was in March since I was in middle school then. I was going to play basketball this year, but I can’t because of the whole pandemic. And so I have to wait till next year. It’s definitely affecting me, but I’m not complaining. Be positive about it and not negative.
I’m not friends with a lot of people anymore because, since quarantine started, I’ve seen who they really are.
I have a lot of people I used to be friends with in middle school that just go all over the place like there isn’t a pandemic going on. And it just bothers me. But I’m not friends with a lot of people anymore because, since quarantine started, I’ve seen who they really are. They don’t call or text. They don’t really make an effort to check on you.
I was just thinking about the last time I went to school in-person, and how crazy it is that we were not wearing masks and a whole bunch of students were in the classroom. And now it’s a little bit scary to think that we could be going back to school next semester or even next year.
Claire, 17, a senior in Ann Arbor, Michigan
I personally love my school. They focus a lot on mental health, physical health, and social health of the kids. Last year, when we started online school, we were only doing four days a week of classes. We had Wednesdays off for clubs and different things. And we had no homework last year just because of the stress level of everyone at that time This year, we’re reopening school online. But I think this year they are implementing a little bit more rigorous curriculum and changing the schedule. We’re alternating four classes every other day now, instead of doing eight classes a day.
I’m not happy about school being online, but I would rather it be online right now just for the safety of everyone. And it’s not just about me getting sick. I know that I would probably be fine, but it’s not about me. It’s about who I give it to. It’s sad that I have to start my senior year at a desk in my bedroom. But I get it.
To other students doing online school, I would just say try to be active in the community because it’s not just about the classes. When I was taking online classes, everyone’s on mute except the teacher and the teacher just talks at you. It’s not a conversation. You get spoken at. But to be part of a community, join clubs that are maybe outside your comfort zone or talk to kids that maybe you wouldn’t talk to. And I know that’s hard from a Zoom perspective. I know for freshmen it’s hard because they can’t just walk up to someone or hear their classmates or even see their classmates. But I also think that social media can be used as a tool at this point.
Leigh, 17, a senior in Castle Rock, Colorado
My district’s protocol is twofold. One of the options is an entirely e-learning semester, so students that take this option would be able to do all of their learning from home. However, something they didn’t tell us until probably two and a half weeks ago was that a majority of AP or college-level courses won’t be available in e-learning. So if you want to take those extra classes — you want to have college credit as you go into college applications — that won’t be available.
We’re all making a secret wager on how long the hybrid learning model is actually kept in school.
The other option that they had is a hybrid learning model. So schools would be split into two cohorts. And for every school, the first cohort will go on Mondays and Wednesdays. The second will go on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Everyone’s online on Fridays. And independent learning happens on the day you’re not in school. This one is flawed for obvious reasons. We probably shouldn’t be in schools in the first place.
So the teachers, a lot of them are speaking out and saying we don’t feel safe going back to school. But the school that isn’t really responding to those calls. A lot of students — those who are high achieving and probably shouldn’t be in school because of health concerns or who they live with — are still being forced to go. I kind of qualify in that group because my mom works in a doctor’s clinic and my dad volunteers as the fire chief in my town.
They’re promising that all the teachers will have the cleaning supplies to clean down their own classrooms, whatever they can. But they’re expected to clean down their own classroom, watch the hallways, and mitigate traffic in the hallways. All in the span of four to five minutes while people are transitioning from class to class. So it just probably will end disastrously.
So the conversations between students are always like: Well, it’s our senior year. We’ll give up everything except for our schedule. So all my friends are still going to go into school and they’ll do the hybrid model for as long as they think it will last. Probably we shouldn’t be doing this, but we’re all making a secret wager on how long the hybrid learning model is actually kept in school. The most generous of those probably get this into mid-September.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.