In-Person School: A Return to Normalcy?

Students, families, and teachers alike were looking forward to returning to the school building this year, hoping to regain semblances of their normal routines. After last year’s virtual school and hybrid schedules, many students were eager to return to the building full-time, longing for the opportunity to socialize in person and engage in extracurricular activities of their choice. Teachers wanted the opportunity to actually get to know their students as independent learners and provide more engaging lessons. Not to mention how all of us awaited the day that we didn’t have to look at all those tiny boxes on Zoom while crossing our fingers that there wasn’t another widespread WiFi outage.

However, when schools opened their doors for the 2021-2022 school year, we did not get the sense of normalcy we sought. Students of all ages and school staff were required to wear masks at all times, while one-directional hallways were enforced. Additional precautions vary widely based on the school of attendance. In the classroom, these precautions may look like students sitting at spaced-out desks that seem to prevent students from collaborating or from sharing materials, meaning fewer experiments in science and manipulatives in math. To that end, some schools are even requiring students sit at assigned seats during lunch and/or providing very limited after-school activities. All these efforts are taken in pursuit of one understandable goal: preventing the spread of COVID-19.  

I don’t know about you, but this is not what I anticipated for school year 2021-2022 when schools originally closed in March 2020. Remember when we thought schools would only be closed for a few weeks? Or when we transitioned to virtual school and took for granted that it was a short-term fix — but then at many schools across the country, it lasted for an entire school year?

With the school day looking and feeling so different, what does that mean for students? First, we are in person again, and while much is different, many things are the same. You are in those hallowed school halls again, so ask questions and engage in the class conversation. Virtually, it was hard to ask questions and even harder to grasp those tricky new concepts. So, when you’re confused, speak up. Your teacher wants to help, I promise. And more to the point, when there is an opportunity to engage in class discussion, take it — those intellectual conversations and lively debates were often missed in the virtual setting.

Extracurriculars are where it gets more complicated. Maybe you’re at a school that’s still offering the whole gambit. If that’s you, take advantage of it. However, if I might add a slight suggestion, think back over the last couple years. What activities did you miss most? My guess is you didn’t miss an overbooked schedule and getting very little sleep. So, let’s take advantage of what you’ve experienced to identify your top priorities, and maybe instead of doing everything, you focus on the ones that bring you the most joy.

Now, if you’re someone who is at a school that’s offering fewer extracurriculars than normal, take heart — not all is lost. If you’re someone who doesn’t quite know exactly where your passions lie yet, that’s okay, and try something new, say, Speech and Debate, for example. Speech and Debate is one extracurricular that adapted smoothly to the virtual world, and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is often when we learn the most. Who knows, you may even like it!

On the other hand, if you already know what you’re passionate about, great, let’s get creative. You loved Spanish Club, but now it’s not happening. Download Duolingo and keep learning, or research and learn more about countries that speak Spanish. Or perhaps you loved Book Club. Why not be the pioneer to facilitate its transition to a virtual platform or continue on your own and start a blog. As virtual school survivors, you can adapt!

At the end of the day, remember it’s your story and you control the narrative; the pandemic doesn’t. Of course, finding your unique voice isn’t easy, but we are here to help.