In-person will help freshmen

Sienna Pak

When I attended Sunny Hills’ Open House assembly in January 2020, I thought my freshman year would be one to remember. It has been a memorable one, but not in the way that I imagined.

I imagined football games, pep rallies, meeting new people from other schools and being made fun of by the upperclassmen. Instead, I didn’t get to attend in-person school until Nov. 2, 2020.

With online learning, I can’t help but feel as if I’ve missed out on the traditions of freshman year. I have not attended a single football game or assembly, and I wasn’t able to experience homecoming night.

Although the pandemic and distance learning have canceled many school events and created learning challenges in itself, I can’t say that I was brought down by it. In fact, I can confidently say that I have benefited from it.

But because I have been excluded from the iconic freshman experience, in addition to several other factors, I remain adamant that all students should be required to attend in-person classes with the continued requirements of masks, social distancing and regular disinfection.

Because the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have all been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, teachers and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions over the age of 16 and 18 are on track to getting their vaccinations, paving a clear path for safely and fully reopening schools.

Though Orange County has seen its fair share of positive COVID-19 cases — with its highest numbers after Thanksgiving and during winter break — since the start of the spring semester, the seven-day average of infections have decreased from Dec. 26, 2020’s count of roughly 3,896 to about 186 cases as of March 11, according to COVID Act Now’s website. With the vaccines continuously being distributed, the spread of the virus is becoming less and less of a concern.

Following the everyday routine of waking up, attending classes in-person twice a week in Cohort A and returning home at 2 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays provided me, and other students, a sense of normalcy. The in-class environment, as well as the instinctual flow of class period one after another, allowed me to be focused on my learning.

In addition, expectations regarding student behavior and academic requirements become normal when students physically attend school compared to virtual school.

The sudden switch to distance learning last March rid students of that routine and structure. As teachers become familiar with Zoom and distance learning accommodations, virtual instruction has obstructed school life for both educators and students.

For teachers, many have undergone adjustments to their ordinary lesson plans in order to accommodate for the difficulty of online learning. Because it’s so easy for students to cheat now, some educators have even stopped giving us tests and quizzes. With online learning, students are restricted from receiving a proper education like they would in an ordinary school year.

With the numerous distractions from Zooming at home, including television, video games, text messaging and social media, it is easy for us to lose focus in our classes. We are no longer in the correct mindset because of jumbled routines and the lack of a classroom environment.

Despite being able to physically attend classes in Cohort A, I still feel that I am neither getting a proper education nor returning to a sense of normalcy. I’m bound to feel this way, since I only attend school in-person twice a week with three other students in my classes who I can’t even interact with comfortably.

Before high school, I was definitely excited to meet new people and make new friends from my classes since I didn’t know most of the students in my classes.

But for the first few months of my freshman year, it was really difficult to communicate through breakout rooms and Zoom meetings. Fortunately, when I began attending in-person classes, I met a few other students and made a couple of friends. However, since I only attend school two days a week, it’s been fairly hard to maintain a solid connection with them. 

Thankfully, as for the friends I still keep in touch with from my middle school, technology has played a huge part in continuing our relationships. Over this last year, I have put my messages app to more use than ever before. But I truly believe that I’m not as close with my friends because of online learning and quarantining.

I look forward to my future high school years when, hopefully, I can see my friends on a daily basis and even make new ones.

Because of the unprecedented nature of the current circumstances, I haven’t received quite the high school experience I expected. But if students are required to return to school in the fall, I hope I can remember my freshman year as one of the most challenging and unpredictable years yet.