After almost two years of remote and hybrid learning in the pandemic, Oyster River High School has finally implemented an all in model with every student back in the building while still following COVID guidelines.
The first week of the all in model began on August 3oth and many students were thrilled to have more normalcy in their lives. However, some students felt nervous about the return back to school as a result of being isolated from their peers, friends, and teachers for so long. This past week, students got a glimpse of what the rest of the year would look like and some were nervous for the weeks to come while others were optimistic. To address each student’s concerns, the school has many resources students can utilize to be successful and emotionally well during the return to school.
Keira Ferris (‘25), has so far had a positive experience being back in the building. She said, “the transition was good. It was really confusing at first finding my way around school but I did get used to it in a few days…but it was probably like that for most freshmen and maybe even sophomores so that made me feel better.”
Unlike Ferris, Mina Gushee (‘22) has been in the high school for her earlier years of high school so navigating the school wasn’t an issue. Gushee was familiar with most of her teachers and peers as well. However, she said, “it does feel like you are meeting some people over again, knowing everybody has changed and grown so much since we last interacted in the spring of 2020.”
A big part of Gushee’s comfortable transition into this new model was the fact that she had teachers she knew before the pandemic. “Whenever I see teachers that I had online, I’m not sure if they recognize me or know who I am at all. I’m actually grateful to have some of my sophomore and freshman year teachers because they’re familiar with the type of student I am and help me feel connected to the school.”
Feeling connected to the school, teachers, and your peers can be more difficult for the younger grades as they barely know any teachers at the school. Ferris said, “sometimes communicating with teachers or peers is difficult in general but because of masks it is hard to read facial expressions.” Ineffective communication and not being able to recognize students can affect teacher-student connections.
Like Ferris, Mihira Govindarajula (‘24) felt the hardest part of the transition from remote to all in person was connecting with her teachers, especially since she is an underclassman. She said, “these are teachers I’ve never seen in my life…but now that I am a sophomore, I know a couple of them but it’s still hard to make a connection with them and talk to them in general.”
While some people struggled with interacting with their teachers, some students also had a hard time connecting with their peers. Govindarajula said, “I’ve definitely disconnected with a lot of people, and in a way I’ve also disconnected with myself too because I’m used to being in a social environment so quarantine was really hard for me.” She continued, “jumping back in person felt weird but I was also excited at the same time to see everyone and talk to new people.” However, Govindarajula feels that her entire class itself is very disconnected due to being separated for a year. “Back in middle school, we were all so tight as a class and then quarantine happened and now we are back, people I’ve known for such a long time in my life won’t even talk to me.”
Ferris was on the same page as Govindarajula and said that the COVID guidelines, like having for lunches and being 3 feet apart, make it even harder to interact with her peers. “I don’t see half my friends at lunch and when I’m in class I can’t talk to someone right next to me like I normally would.”
Fortunately, Govindarajula feels that advisory has helped with reforming lost connections and creating new ones. “Advisories are one of the best ways to connect with people…I was lucky enough to have an advisory and an advisor that creates really good activities. Last year, literally none of us talked to each other and this year we came in on the first day and we were already playing games on the board and we were talking.” She continued, “it was just so nice to see that connection between all of us.”
Reconnecting with your teachers and peers while balancing your education is challenging and can take an emotional toll on someone, especially after being isolated for so long. Gushee explained, “classes are already assigning work and it’s been stressful to balance school with my job and also self care. It’s especially difficult while adjusting back to the school schedule, and this is heightened even more because being in person is much more demanding than being online and just these first couple of days have been exhausting.”
For others, the first week has been laid back. Govindarajula said, “It’s only been a week and I might need at least a month to see what emotional and academic stress I take on…so far I haven’t had much.”
However, looking into the future, Govindarajula feels that she will struggle academically. “I think I will struggle just like everyone else because our learning methods shifted [from remote learning to in person].”
Ferris feels the opposite as she believes in person learning is much more suitable for her. “For me in person is definitely a lot easier than being remote…having a space to learn and seeing and communicating with people in person is just so much better.”
Gushee agreed with Ferris. Even though in person learning is more tiring than remote, Gushee said, “being in person will enrich learning opportunities because it’s much easier to stay connected with teachers and participate in hands-on activities and other lessons that accommodate more of a variety of learning styles.”
Most students seem to be handling the transition well, however, Counselor Jason Baker explained, “I’m noticing students who aren’t coming to school. They can’t do school and their mindset is ‘this is hard and I can’t do it’.” He continued on to say, “mental health days are important but sometimes they turn into two days, three days, and more.”
Each student may be struggling with different aspects of being back in person and both Baker and Principal Rebecca Noe acknowledge this. Noe said, “as the school year moves forward, we may start to see more students struggle, but we have put programs and strategies in place to help those students.”
These resources include the Writing Center where students can get help with any type of writing: labs, essays, and responses. Another one is the Learning Lab which is where students are assigned if they need help with academics or even executive functioning skills. There is also a Math Center which is specifically for math help that students can utilize.
Baker also gave advice to students who are specifically struggling emotionally and socially. He said, “it’s important to remember that there is always a counselor on call if you need something.” Baker then continued to explain that the counseling office will work with the students to find out what the triggers are and work through them. He emphasized, “we need to work through it [the triggers] not around it.”
Lastly, the school has MTSS, a multi-tiered system of support, meant for mostly emotional well-being. There are different tiers. Tier 1 is support for the general school community whereas tier 2 and 3 are more targeted to people struggling more than others.
With the resources the school is offering and students’ excitement about being in a normal school setting, most people are looking forward to an overall positive school year. Gushee said, “I’m excited for the year to come… I just hope that I can maintain this seemingly positive trajectory for the whole year.” Govindarajula acknowledges that this school year will be difficult but goes on to hope for the best. “I think I speak for most people when I say this school year will be hard but we can get through it…it’ll just take some time.”