I vividly remember the feeling of starting high school. The feeling of terror that enveloped me as I walked into the high school building is not one easily forgotten. Despite this, I was excited. I was finally a real high schooler and could see how accurate it would be to all the movies and stories that set my expectations.
Little did I know that nothing about my high school experience would be normal. In a little more than 8 months, the world would descend into chaos.
The year went normally until we came back from Christmas break. Over the break, we had heard of a virus in China that was slowly growing. We weren’t very concerned and went about like normal. It wasn’t until we had the first case in Tennessee that we were really concerned.
I remember sitting in my English class and a student said, “I hope that we all get out of school for a while because of the virus.” My teacher told us that we shouldn’t say that and that we wouldn’t want people dying in our community. She was right of course.
My Grandmother passed away on March 9, 2020. I missed school for the week to travel and go to the funeral. We had to move all of my grandmother’s belongings from the hospice center, and as we got the last load out the center closed the doors and said that a national order had been sent out that there were to be no more visits. I think that this was the first moment that I realized that the virus would be a big deal.
After the funeral, I checked my phone to find out that the school was closed down for one week. This was the second moment.
One week in quarantine turned into 3 and eventually that turned into the rest of the year. Most teachers did not post assignments, but the ones that did were the ones that truly seemed to care.
My english teacher posted an assignment to write down what we were thinking and about our days in a journal. I wrote on March 24, “Today was the same as yesterday. Everyday seems the same. There is no Monday or Friday. They are all the same now.” It was honestly the truth. School provided a schedule and without that it seemed like every day was the same.
We never went back to school that school year and eventually we were able to go some places again. I was very skeptical of going back to school in the fall and worried that I, or my family, would get the virus.
In less than a month after starting school, we had to go on a hybrid schedule. This meant that the school was divided into two groups and that one group would go two days while the other was virtual and Friday’s would be virtual for everyone. Most students were glad to be out of school for 3 days a week, but the teachers did not seem happy about it.
We lasted that way for a couple of months and then it was decided that we would just have to go to school Monday through Thursday. Students struggled with getting work done and truly understanding the content. Some students just didn’t complete the work or would cheat.
The school started sending letters to notify students that someone in their class had been tested positive for covid. This really created an atmosphere of stress as everyone looked around the room to see who was absent. I remember my stomach would drop every time the intercom would turn on for fear I would be getting quarantined.
At one point I did get quarantined and I could see how difficult it was for students who were on distance learning. Between teachers being technologically illiterate and the ones that just gave fluff assignments to distance learners, I think it is safe to say that I learned very little during that time.
The year was affected not only academically, but also socially and in terms of experiences. Friends that I enjoyed talking to in the school day were in the other group or distance learners and I didn’t see them for months, some even a full year. Events, like the college fair, were cancelled, leaving students with little to no knowledge about their options for college. Homecoming was cancelled and the Prom was extremely limited. Events that for some people define their high school experience were all but forgotten.
Even this year is not close to normal. We still have to worry about exposure even though we don’t get letters anymore. There’s no mandatory quarantines, leading to having to learn through gossip if they are exposed to covid. There’s still no assemblies or mass events.
In reality, none of my high school experience will be normal. It will not be normal for anyone in my class either and maybe some of the ones after it too.