Masked teachers in front of classroom doors in hall lined with lockers

Finally Back at School, Teens Have Mixed Emotions

Masked teachers in front of classroom doors in hall lined with lockers
(“Teachers in masks in hallway” by Allison Shelley for EDUImages, provided by Alliance for Excellent Education under CC BY-NC 2.0 license)

Editor’s note: After spending more than an entire school year in distance learning, West Contra Costa students are now, largely, back in the classroom. So we asked some teens at Kennedy and Vista high schools to tell us what that’s been like for them — what’s felt weird and what’s felt normal and how they’re adjusting. Their comments have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. This is part one in a series.

Commentary, Various Authors

I LOVE THIS SCHOOL YEAR. I can actually interact with peers, staff, teachers, etc. I learn so much more and do so much more work. Last year was terrible because it was a big change in everyone’s education. I can ask students around me for help or quick questions I have. Peers help me stay on track and motivate me.

I adore being back in school. I like to be involved, so events and meetings are fun. I’m also a very social person, so I like to talk to many different types of people. Being in a school setting is just so much better than being at home.

Safety measures do make me feel safe. I don’t like masks, but I understand it’s necessary. I also really like how you need to have the vaccine if you’re in WCCUSD. That makes me feel 10 times better because IF there is a case, then it can be somewhat controlled.

The campus I am on feels pretty normal. Wearing masks makes it harder to understand/hear others. At Kennedy High, we started a new schedule. That took some weeks to adjust to. I enjoy this schedule more, though, because it can help students advance or catch up.

I am glad we are back to being in person. School at home made me fall back a little because I was unmotivated. I am worried that I might get COVID and get my parents sick. I do have the vaccine, but many different students come to school, so no one ever knows. This is why I am glad that students will have to start having the vaccine to attend school.

— Olinda Figueredo, 15

The beginning of this school year, compared last to year’s, wasn’t as normal. Last year felt more safe and comfortable. Virtual learning versus in-person learning — each has its pros and cons. I was able to adapt well with virtual learning, while it’s difficult for me, mentally, to adapt to in-person learning.

Every since the first week of school, it’s affected my mental health in not a positive way. Of course, I may be getting an education, but at the end of the day, it’s all about what makes me feel safe and comfortable. With junior year now being the busiest of my high school years and because of my mental health, it makes me miss virtual learning. I could spend more time with my family and have more time for myself, but it’s also made me value how much time I have with my loved ones.

The safety measures at school, in terms of social distancing and having to wear masks, it’s debatable. I’d still rather be isolated in the comfort of my home. With the pandemic still happening, no safety measure can bring back normality. The pandemic — and 2020 as a whole — changed all of us. But whatever they have to do to keep us safe, I’ll follow even if some things might not do much.

What feels normal to me is spending time with my friends whether it’s in person or online. What feels weird is social distancing. That’s something I’ll never adjust to with my loved ones. What felt normal to me is being isolated from other people. What felt weird, even now, is being back in person while there is a still pandemic going on. In person at school almost nothing is normal. You’re unaware of what will happen next.

I’m very glad to see my friends again after a whole year, more or less, of virtual learning. I’m glad to see my favorite teachers again, finally, in person. I’m worried about what will happen going forward regarding school and the pandemic. I’m worried about myself and my mental health as well as those around me who I care for dearly. Overall, I’m glad but also worried about this year because you never know what will happen or impact the world.

Anisa Providence, 16

>>>Read: Distance Learning Raises Questions About Mental Health

I think this school year started off pretty good compared to last year. Last year was a bit hard because it was online and no one was really sure what to do. This year is going better than I thought. I’m happy with all the classes I have and I think I’m doing pretty good in them.

I didn’t do very good last year. I’m hoping I can make up for that this year. I’m really trying to do good in my classes and get my grades up. It’s easier to learn things in person. It’s good for students to physically be at school because they can see their friends and socialize.

The safety measurements do make me feel safe. I like that we wear masks because some schools don’t have that required, and students get infected more easily. I also like that we have air purifiers and that classes are required to keep their doors open. I don’t like that some classes are big. They said the classes would be smaller this year. They should tell us when someone in our class has COVID and if we need to get tested.

It feels weird that everyone’s wearing masks, but it’s good that we are. Everything else feels normal. It doesn’t feel like anything has changed, and things are going good. I think the teachers are doing a good job making sure everyone keeps their masks up and enforcing the rules. It’s important that teachers make sure students are being respectful of the COVID guidelines.

I’m glad we’re back in person because it’s helped me better my grades. I’m also happy with the schedule because it allows us to take more classes. That way, students who need it can get more credits. I’m worried we might go back online because of the COVID cases at the school, but I’m hoping it doesn’t get too bad. I’m also worried about students who sometimes don’t wear their masks because they’re the reason other people get sick. I think this school year is going to be good, and I hope we stay in school for the whole year. I’m excited to be graduating this year, and I’m going to keep trying my best.

— Stephanie Gonzalez, 18

>>>Read: WCCUSD Students Reflect on Challenges, Benefits of Distance Learning

The beginning of this year was slow and tired. I’ve been glad to be back. I know many other students and teachers had been excited to be back with their friends. I find it easier to learn in person when my teachers are here to help me, and I’m not racing to just copy down notes without understanding the material. The beginning of last school year is foggy in my mind. I think I remember wondering if this was really real, if we would have to learn like this and live every day with about six hours of computer time for each school day. Everyone was reluctant but willing to try this new version of school. I was upset about not having friends or being able to form better relationships with other students or teachers.

I like being in school because I can learn better, the activities are more hands-on, and I have people to enjoy my day with. It’s great being able to meet new teachers and visiting old ones. I’m beginning to make more friends and not feel so trapped within the walls of my house. There are certain things that make me feel reluctant to be back in school and having to come in-person, but there are people that make it worth coming. This is my last year in this school, and I’m hoping COVID and other factors won’t get too in the way of my education and the “fun” part of high school.

It makes me feel a lot safer being in school and people obeying the mask mandate, for the most part. I do see some students every now and then walking through the halls without a mask. My larger concern is the fact that there aren’t desks and keyboards and bathrooms that are cleaned/sanitized daily. There have been many COVID cases recently, and I’m afraid the lack of sanitizing everything will add onto that, and it’ll infect me and I’ll unknowingly infect others.

To me, there isn’t much that feels out of place. I’m glad that we, at least, have the mask mandate and that much is normal to me. There isn’t much that’s changed. Students are still in their own pairs or groups of friends. We have soap in the bathrooms, most of the time; some students like to carry their own hand sanitizer. The only thing I feel is “weird” is how students will surround themselves with the risks of getting infected; they aren’t careful with themselves, and it risks more of us who are trying their best to stay healthy and learn.

>>>Read: Some Eager, Some Reluctant — Teens Reflect on the Vaccine

I’m worried about my friends and I getting really sick. I’m glad to be vaccinated and relieved to hear the majority of my friends are, but are a lot of students don’t want to be vaccinated, despite the new mandate. I’m also glad our teachers are taking the masks very seriously but I do wish they’d be more stern with students about having theirs on when they don’t. I’m doing pretty well in my classes. I would hate for us to have to go back to complete isolation and online classes again, especially for my last year in high school.

— Katherine Hurtado, 17

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