Inside the Return to In-Person School

In a school day still far from normal, students and teachers share their experiences as they go in-person for the first time this year.

February 17, 2021

On March 13th, 2020, Green Hope students went home not knowing that it would be their final day of in-person school for a very long time. 341 days later, the first group of students has returned to the building… with school looking quite different than before.

As the sun rose, students began to arrive at school for temperature checks and COVID questionnaires. The carpool line was shockingly empty, even compared to the reduced number of students who came to the school in January for final exams. This emptiness continued across the school, in places such as classrooms and hallways. Freshman Avery McIntire described the scenes, saying, “It’s very strange walking in a hallway with 5 other people, and sitting in a classroom with 3 students.”

The carpool line, usually crawling bumper-to-bumper traffic, was incredibly empty. (Lucas Moore)

In classrooms, desks were spaced far apart to ensure social distancing, which was not a difficult task due to the sparseness of students. These empty desks represent a reality in which droves of students are choosing to opt out of in-person learning. Chemistry teacher Mr. D’Agostin said he’s had “7 students switch to virtual academy since Monday,” and other teachers have echoed the same sentiment. Students in class have reported it operating very similarly to virtual academy. “It’s pretty much just virtual school at a different desk, wearing a mask,” one student told us.

Desks are spaced far apart, with both students and teachers facing the same direction. (Lucas Moore)
Even while sitting in class, students had to log onto a Google Meet to participate in class. (Lucas Moore)

Still, even with the low number of people in attendance, many are happy to be interacting with people again. One teacher said, “I only have 1 student in 1st period – she is lovely! Quiet hallway, but nice to see my colleagues.” Other students have commented on the COVID protocols, one finding that “all of my classes and [the] bus were very safe and I never felt at risk for COVID.” The feeling of risk is diminished by strict mask and social distancing policies, dictating that masks must remain on at all times. The only exception to this rule is lunch. Once a time for socialization and relaxation, lunch has become a strict, silent time exclusively focused on eating. Everyone must eat at the same time and be silent, pulling their mask down momentarily only to eat or drink. It bears almost no similarity to school lunches of the past, with many students feeling that it detracts from the social experience of returning to school.

However, it’s not just lunch that has caused dismay among students. Senior Parker Buchanan expressed frustration with the new protocols, saying they make school “feel like a jail at some points, and awkward when you’re the only one in the class and everyone else is online.” Some students have even decided that they will not be returning to school after the first day, with one anonymous junior reporting “a lot of students side by side talking and walking together,” and deciding they didn’t feel safe enough to continue attending in-person.

For many the system feels imperfect, but the hope is that as the year goes on the pandemic will be mitigated and Green Hope can get closer to normalcy once again.