Students across country yearn for normalcy in school routines

Jilian Denlow, Staff Writer

Across the country, five students with separate experiences share a common denominator—a strong desire to return to normalcy. These students have expressed the ways this school year differs from previous ones, whether they’re learning behind a mask or behind a computer screen. 

While ETHS has been committed to e-learning since last spring and plans to remain virtual until mid-March at a minimum, certain schools across America have approached the situation in a different way.

“Going to school feels less like a chore and more like a privilege,” says Evie Braude, freshman at Webb School of Knoxville, Tennessee. Despite the constant stress, anxiety, uncertainty and lack of social interaction during these unprecedented times, this silver lining is one that surely would not have been revealed without the introduction of COVID-19.

According to Education Week’s school reopening database, “74 percent of the 100 largest U.S. school districts chose remote learning as their back-to-school instructional model, affecting more than 9 million students.” 

Like ETHS, Dunwoody High School in Atlanta, Georgia has decided to “play it safe” and follow a virtual method of learning until coronavirus cases decline a significant amount. 

Similar to ETHS’ block schedule for remote learning, Dunwoody High School, a public school with just over 2,000 students, has gone down a similar route, with similar expectations, where students are required to attend their classes via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.

“We have always had a block schedule, meaning we only have 4 classes each semester. In person the classes would be 90 minutes, but they have been shortened to an hour this year,” Becca Nelson, a current sophomore at Dunwoody High School explains. “Both classwork and homework assignments are submitted virtually as well.” 

Nelson prefers learning in-person because of the overall experience; being constantly occupied with extracurriculars and surrounded by friends offers her the comfort of routine and keeping busy. Over Zoom and Microsoft Teams, she is often unable to focus with constant distractions within arms reach. Nonetheless, Nelson expressed that virtual learning does have its perksfeeling less rushed each morning before she attends her first class and having the ability to complete most assignments on her own time. 

Sophie Glantz, a sophomore at ETHS, was skeptical as to how e-learning would be implemented as soon as the ETHS administration made their final decision mid-July to begin with e-learning in the fall. 

 “In the summer I dreaded the idea of being fully online. My only reference was comparing it to what it was like last spring. Last spring the format was not organized whatsoever and it felt extremely inefficient,” she says. “My views have now changed drastically and the block schedule has been working very well.”

The negative aspects of e-learning are quite obvious. The lack of social interaction has given students a much greater appreciation for the connections that are built in-person with not just their classmates, but teachers as well. 

Additionally, Glantz explains, “A major challenge has been motivating myself and making sure I don’t procrastinate, however I believe that being given this independence will be important in the long run; a good preparation for college and beyond.”

Across America, students never anticipated they would still be following a virtual method of learning this far into the school year.

“Although I do enjoy aspects of virtual learning, I liked it more at the start of the school year. We have been online for an entire semester now, and I am feeling very burnt out. I miss being on the move throughout the day,” Nelson explains.

Overall, both girls, along with the majority of students across the country, long for the day when they can return to school in the building, rather than alone in their bedroom. When that may be, Nelson and Glantz are not fully sure. 

“I predict we will return in the fourth quarter. If that ends up happening, I know it will not feel the same as it did pre-COVID. If we do resume learning in-person, I believe a hybrid system of learning would keep both students and staff as safe as possible. I trust the administration, along with the Evanston community as a whole to do what is best for everyone’s health,” Glantz expresses. “I am very hopeful about returning next fall if not sooner.”

Ella Lilly, a freshman at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, a magnet school in Austin, Texas, has been given the opportunity to attend school in-person, however has chosen the remote option, along with 95 percent of the students. As the school year has progressed, Lilly has discovered both the pros and cons of learning remotely.

“I love having extra time between classes to do whatever I want—getting ahead on homework, finishing up projects, or just taking a quick walk to get some fresh air. However, it is quite difficult to create a connection with my teachers,” Lilly says. “It is also really lonely learning from home: like school without the fun parts.”

Hundreds of miles away, Webb School of Knoxville in Tennessee, a private institution with just over 1,000 students and Clayton High School in St. Louis, Missouri, a public school with 900 students, are offering in-person learning, hoping that the risk will lead to better education and overall happier students and staff. 

“Very few people chose the remote option originally. I think at the beginning of the year, less than 5% of high-schoolers were remote. For many people staying at home wasn’t a viable option due to various setbacks such as inability to focus, learning disorders, but most of all, the yearning for normalcy,” Webb High School freshman Evie Braude shares.

Both Webb and Clayton High School have decided to follow a hybrid method of learning, minimizing the amount of students in the building at once. Clayton has divided all the students by last name. During the school week, students with last names A-L attend school in the morning from 8-11, followed by letters M-Z in the afternoon, from 12-3. If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, the school follows a contact trace system, alerting those that have been in close contact to stay home and join their classes via zoom for fourteen days. 

However, in-person learning doesn’t give Julia Mann, a freshman from Clayton high school, the happiness it used to. 

“When I was online for the first quarter, I lost most of the relationships I previously had with my friends. I never realized how much I appreciated the in-school interaction until I could no longer experience it. Now, being in-person, I have many friends that I am only able to talk to in the hallways for a very short period of time,” Mann shares. “Though the changes are not too drastic, I would have loved to start my high school experience normally. I know for a fact that when everything returns to normal, I will be beyond appreciative.”

In addition, Braude communicated that a number of safety measures have been implemented as they wish to keep everyone, both their staff and students, healthy.

“While we are on campus, mask-wearing and distancing are enforced. Classrooms are spaced out as much as possible, and with our hybrid schedule, students are more than six feet apart during classes, and there are less than 10 students in a classroom,” Braude says. “Students are also encouraged to eat their lunches outside, and the indoor dining areas are spaced out with reduced capacity. When the weather was warmer, tents were set up outside, so we had frequent classes in the open air.”

Despite the adjustments that have been made, the schools that have chosen to return understand that there is still a large risk involved. 

Students across the country, no matter how their school has approached the 2020-21 school year, can all agree that the pandemic has made them much more appreciative of the little things in life that used to be taken for granted—one of those being their education.

“The pandemic has opened my eyes and showed me how thankful I should be,” Mann explains. “When watching the news, you constantly see how the pandemic has really hit people hard. How the pandemic has affected me is nowhere as bad as it has for others, and I feel beyond lucky.”