Halfway through the fall semester, and I’m so glad as a sophomore to finally get my ‘high school experience’

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Rebekah Kim

Sophomore Irene Sheen eats lunch with her group of fellow 10th grade friends near the math and science wing. Unlike last year’s virtual learning when she typically spent her lunch time in solitude, Sheen appreciates the company of her friends.

Irene Sheen

For so long, I convinced myself that I wasn’t much of a people person.

During this digital era, as long as I have my handy laptop, I assumed that I would be perfectly fine with learning in an environment physically void of others. That was until the COVID-19 pandemic took over the nation and sent thousands of students back home to establish a new lifestyle — one that left us completely out of touch from the outside world. 

Although at the start of the pandemic I expressed my enthusiasm for remote learning, which kept me within the comforts of home, I soon realized that this marked the beginning of a long and tortuous journey.

Having expected a wild freshman year filled with new clubs, friends and fascinating elective classes, I was crushed by the realities of a difficult transition from middle school amid the Zoom learning experience. Rather than helping me adjust to the new environment, my first year as a high schooler stripped me of my academic and social abilities. 

Months went by and little progress seemed to take place. If anything, I noticed a decline in not only my learning abilities,but my day-to-day life as I stayed cooped up in my room with little to no live interaction with others. 

Retaining and applying educational material became significantly more challenging, and my grades audibly reflected my declining interest to succeed academically. Online learning fueled an additional series of unhealthy study habits, and procrastination soon became a lifestyle. 

Despite these struggles, when the Fullerton Joint Union High School District proposed a hybrid system, I stuck with the Cohort C option of staying home in fears of contracting the COVID-19 virus. As a result, the school year quickly came to an end without any significant accomplishments or lasting memories made of my first year as a Lancer, and I was left still unfamiliar with the Sunny Hills community.

However, as the pandemic restrictions loosened for the 2021-2022 school year, and the district offered students an opportunity to return to standard in-person learning, I was finally given a look into the “high school experience.” 

Looking back at the start of school, I was filled with concern, fearing that I had completely forgotten how to socialize and hold decent conversations with classmates. But even among all these unfamiliar faces, a sense of relatability and unspoken understanding endures, and my peers and teachers are now here to hold me accountable and make this high school experience one that offers valuable lessons and growth. Contrary to the detachment and miscommunication that resulted from virtual learning, which kept me at an awkward distance, I can now personally relate and bond with my classmates.

As mid-October approaches, and we’re halfway through my first high school semester of live instruction, I’m beginning to reflect on my short, yet meaningful time spent here physically at Sunny Hills.

Whether it be my ability to better understand class material or my significantly longer attention span, live instruction is better for me academically. 

According to an article published by AP News, Connecticut students who spent over 75% of their school day learning in a standard in-person environment saw an increase in test scores and overall academic achievement compared to their online learning counterparts. But beyond these educational elements, I’m starting to recognize the importance of building relationships and accumulating experience and memories. 

Despite still feeling like a freshman, I’m happy to say that I attended my first ever football game, participated in a spirit day by wearing pajamas to Sunny Hills for the first time, joined my first in-person club meeting and conducted my very first live interview for The Accolade. As much as they seem like typical high school routines, for me, these are all novel and unfamiliar experiences that I missed during my first year at Sunny Hills. 

In-person learning undoubtedly has its flaws. I can’t use the restroom at my discretion or pig out on snacks during class. Most importantly, I dread getting ready at the break of dawn for a 6:55 a.m. class while still half asleep a routine that I’m gradually adjusting to after a year of habitually waking up just a few minutes before the start of class. 

But physical learning offers the joy and spirit of coming to school; without hesitation, this excitement far outweighs my apprehension. 

It’s no lie that I’m not quite the life of the party. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve never willingly sought out intimate and interpersonal relationships as I lost contact with a handful of old friends and found little occasion to apply my socializing skills. 

But if I learned anything from virtual learning and the restraints it left on the millions of students across the globe, it’s that physical interaction is a fundamental need that online learning will never satisfy.

In no way would I trade the ease and comfort of home for an authentic high school experience that highlights the progression of relationships, which distance learning had entirely prevented.

After all, our adolescence and teenage years are the supposed peaks of our lives, and we just don’t have any time to waste.