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POV: My First Week Back at In-Person School

By: Esther Nahon (12th Grade)

Monday October 19, 2020: The Second First Day

Pacing up the stairs at 7:42 this morning, I tried my best to enter the building with a calm and positive attitude. I was glad to be greeted by new and familiar (half) faces from the administration as they provided us not only with a warm welcome, but a sense of normalcy in the midst of a situation that was anything but normal. To my suprise, I had been screened, given my schedule, and photographed by a student council member on the patio in all of five minutes.

Impressed by the ease of the early morning, I painstakingly made my way up four flights of stairs (which I did not miss), eager to learn what each floor now looked like. Desks and tables had been separated and marked for a 6 foot distance and several rooms had been removed or combined to form optimal learning spaces. I easily passed through the different classrooms and areas throughout the day.

With my ten pound backpack slung over my shoulder, I made my way to the third floor for my Modern Jewish History class. My first socially distanced lesson of the year was not half bad; in fact, the increased personal space actually allowed me to focus better without distractions. The hybrid aspect of the classroom, however, did not prove itself to be fully functional yet as many classrooms are not fully set up yet. While the physical students engaged in a more or less normal lesson, those online faced multiple technical difficulties and were put at a disadvantage for not being able to participate properly.

Maintaining a proper distance, however, posed one of the biggest challenges of returning to school. Many teachers seemed on edge about students properly adhering to the safety procedures on the first day back. Although it bothered me at first, their frustration ultimately allowed me to understand how seriously the situation needs to be handled at all times. 

I could finally let out a sigh of relief once the clock struck 12. The previously undisclosed lunch locations were revealed, with the seniors given the roof (also serving as our interim/impromptu senior lounge). Taking a seat among the circle of socially distanced chairs, I inhaled a breath of fresh air as I removed my mask to eat. It was a bit hectic for lunchtime to operate normally on the roof due to light rain and wind. Plastic forks and plates occasionally flew away in the wind and balancing containers on our laps is becoming a new skill we have to master. The elongated hour however allows for so much more time to properly enjoy eating lunch and accomplish other things as well such as attending club meetings or catching up with friends.

I’m not going to lie, but I did have some serious doubt about returning to physical school. Like many others probably felt, I was worried that the first official day back would evoke chaos and pandemonium and/or that students wouldn’t heed to the many safety precautions, jeopardizing the health of all of those around them. However, as far as I have experienced, I am glad to have been proven wrong. I am confident that with time, the system will improve itself due to the extraneous time and efforts being put in by the staff and administration. 

Tuesday October 20, 2020:

Maybe I spoke too soon. Coming in today with high hopes, I seemed to have lost the energy that kept me going throughout the day. Perhaps it was the gloomy weather, but I found it hard to stay focused in my classes. The hour felt a whole lot longer as every class seemed to drag out to no end. Forbidden to move our masks--unless for a drink of water--myself as well as many of my peers craved a snack break in between classes to make the three hours until lunch a bit more bearable. 

Some progress has been made regarding the hybrid classroom; many classrooms succeeded in connecting the Zoom to the screens in the back of the room and those who struggled were provided aid by the IT team. While the system is far from perfect, it is progressively improving with time.  

While I didn't mind so much on the first day, the issue of social distancing is becoming very concerning. I understand that it is extremely difficult for over 100 students to to stand six feet apart, but transitioning between classes felt too claustrophobic today. Swarms of kids from all directions walked awfully close to one another, so much so that our backpacks brush against each other in the cramped spaces. However, administrators are working around the clock to implement improvements; by the end of the day, my teachers held by the staggered transitions, dismissing our class five minutes after the bell to reduce the amount of physical interaction.

Lunch was a hit though! Eluding an expected rainstorm, I made my way to the fifth floor to find three folding tables put in place to optimize our eating conditions. This made it so much easier to put down all of our stuff and kept us from resorting to the floor. Student council also issued out ice cream sandwiches and Italian ice as a sweet back to school treat. 

Wednesday October 21, 2020:

I’m starting to feel like I completely took virtual school for granted. Arising in pitch black this morning, I had to double check to make sure it was actually 7 AM and not PM. The gloomy weather unfortunately lasted the entire day, making the lunchtime situation a bit more complicated. The “rain plan” was put in action for the first time, and the hour was split up as freshmen and sophomores took turns eating on the patio’s blue picnic benches. During the waiting interval, the grades who were not eating lunch were confined to either the 3rd or 4th floor for a study hall, or break until the patio became available.

Still, despite the organized plan, social distancing was barely kept; circles of folding chairs took up every inch of space on the patio in order to make room for the large classes. Some kids did not even eat lunch because they felt that close proximity between students posed a threat to their health. Personally, I felt a bit uncomfortable as well being unmasked in this setting and think a new arrangement needs to be made as soon as possible. Maybe the building should be utilized for lunchtime, limiting ten students to a classroom, each to be proctored by a teacher so that the students can enjoy their only free time safely and comfortably. 

Without a doubt, I am beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to be back in a physical school setting. Attending Tefillah in a Minyan, interacting with others face to face, and having my friends and teachers nearby to consult with for any problem, definitely trumps being alone at home. However, this does come at the expense of dealing with extremely difficult circumstances regarding our physical health that I know the administration has been, and still is, doing their best to perfect.

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