Getting Back School Spirit and an Academic Load

  Emily Liu (‘23) walks through the halls between classes, talking and laughing with classmates that she hasn’t seen in the time of remote learning. She is motivated by her peers and has a full course load of challenging classes that she is taking this year. However, underneath all that excitement of having a “normal” high school year, there is some nervousness about getting behind. Students alike are scared this year will bring a heavy load of school work, and a packed schedule leading to exhaustion. 

     Some Oyster River students were remote for almost two years now. Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors have not experienced a full year of high school yet. Now that students are in the building, there are more opportunities to be social, take part in clubs, and go to events. With these opportunities, there will also be an increased commitment level than in past years done remotely, including a nightly homework routine. As students adjust or begin to experience high school experiences in person, both students and teachers express their concerns, excitement, and tips on making this a great year. 

     In the first few weeks of school, there has been visible excitement and success expressed by students and teachers. Jason Baker, a school counselor said,  “I’ve seen excitement. I’ve seen it from kids; I’ve seen it from adults. There’s definitely a feeling of our motto this year: better together… Our educational system was founded on being in person and we didn’t realize that alone. We never talked about being together [before].” 

Students Studying During Spirt Week’s PJ Day

     Students and teachers realized how much they missed some elements of being together as a school community, especially in the first few weeks of school. Many are excited to be getting back classroom connections and to be in a more productive learning environment. Maya More (‘25) is very excited to be back to in-person learning and begin to experience high school. She explained that expectations are higher than in remote middle school, but with that, it’s also been a much more motivating and productive environment for her to learn. More said,  “I really struggled with remote learning. It did not work well for me. I wasn’t able to keep up with my work well. That was hard.” She continued, “It’s a lot easier to focus [being in person.]”

     Being in person, many students are gaining new motivation from seeing other students and working together. In general, eating lunch with friends, working on assignments together during class, and just walking by other students in the hall has made school a lot more enjoyable for many students. J Ruml, a senior, shared their excitement to work with people again.  “It’s been really great to come back to school cause I’m just seeing a wider variety. I didn’t talk to that many people over quarantine, so especially the first few days have been fun to see all my friends and not just all the ones I’ve been talking to a ton.”

     Although all these new changes are exciting and beneficial for many students, there is still some worry that work and social life will become challenging. In the first couple of weeks, students reported fairly well balanced school days. However, since so many students have not experienced a full year of in person school, there’s some uncertainty of what’s to come. Liu explained, “I think I’m both excited and worried because it’s my first time in a whole year compared to how freshman year was cut off and sophomore year for me was completely remote. I’m worried that I’m not used to the new workload.”

     Celeste Best, a science teacher, has heard this worry from many of her students. Best and other teachers understand that students will have to adjust to this change and the goal is not to make this a challenging year. With this in mind, teachers are still going to try to teach a full curriculum to get back on track, preparing students for their futures. Best explained, “I think we are going to have a normal workload. I don’t think anyone is going to try and make up for things you didn’t get to… I think students are going to have to get back into that mode of having nightly homework and you are going to have to spend time [doing a little more work]. I think students are going to have to get used to deadlines because those are going to be relatively solid.” 

     Students will have to work at full curriculum speed, but this workload can be gradually increased over time based on students’ needs in adjusting to a new workflow. Baker explained, “We understand we need to build up the tolerances and momentum. Sure it’s still scary but we are going to gradually increase.”

     Along with that, teachers put a lot of thought into their curriculums and how they are going to teach students so that they can adjust to a full workload and go over things that were missed in past years. Teachers hope that students will communicate if they didn’t learn assumed knowledge. In the math department, this adjustment is especially important because math is a foundational topic. Lisa Halbach, the math department head stated, “we tried to be very careful in terms of how we [changed the curriculum]. We are not out to try and make this year challenging. This is not going to be a one-year process.”

     Although there are some skills and pieces of the curriculum that teachers didn’t get to, Best and Hallbach say that students aren’t actually behind. Skills that weren’t learned have been replaced by other important skills students learned by being remote. Students agree that they’ve gained new insights on their learning and have picked up skills that can be helpful for this year and future years. Students from all grades with individual experiences in remote learning share their gained skills from remote learning that will help them with this new year. 

     Ruml shares that with remote learning they learned a lot about what they need to do to take care of their mental health. They had more time to reflect on themselves and their identity. “I know myself so much better and I know my learning better. I know how to not exhaust myself.”

     Liu also benefited from quarantine in some ways. She explains that teachers weren’t over her shoulder telling her what to do and she learned how to problem solve and figure out some information independently. “I think I gained the ability to work on my own and teach myself information.” 

     Similarly, Talia Banafato (‘24), a sophomore, explained that she learned how to organize all her commitments through the experience of having to do that more, “I think I can manage my time better from remote learning, so I think that will help with my work now. ” 

     Students can find a lot of success this year if these following skills are carried over this school year. Teachers such as Best, and Hallbach additionally suggest that students make sure to communicate with teachers and reach out if something is difficult. Best stated, “Flex times, which we didn’t have [last year], I think are going to be really important for kids as they start to get into things… I think it’s the communication piece with your teacher and your parents that is going to be really key to time management and figuring out the things you need to do.” 

     Hallbach stated the importance of using resources and being on top of your schedule. “Don’t get behind. Continue to get your homework done on a daily basis. Come see your teacher during flex or if you have a free period or study hall and there’s always a math lab. [There are] lots of options to get support so you can be successful.” Baker also explained that it’s important to use adults as a resource if the nightly homework sneaks up on students or the communication piece gets difficult. The counseling department is always available to break down the stress students are going through and help make realistic goals.

    Students and faculty really believe that connection and communication is crucial for a successful year, and to get through stressful moments. Liu really believes that a lot of her motivation comes from being with other students. “[During remote learning] I felt I was really disconnected from the people around me and the students in my class.” She continued to explain that this was very demotivating at times for her but being in the building has helped her gain  motivation. “ I feel like because I’m in school with all my peers around me with all my friends I feel more motivated to do work and to actually turn in homework and do [well].”

     Not only is being together and communicating with others important for academics but also for school spirit and high school experience. Best says, “ I think things like spirit week are going to be fun… So now you have that opportunity to bring that culture back. You know that [this year’s] theme is better together, absolutely! I didn’t realize how bad last year was until I got back here. I knew it was bad and it was crazy… But I didn’t realize how much I missed that student interaction until I could actually see your eyes and stuff like that.”

Baker adds, “Now is the time for students to get back to those traditions they love, for people to know what high school actually feels like and carry over skills like time management, and focus on mental health.”

    So far there has been a lot positive energy and excitement to be back together. Students and teachers hope everyone can remain healthy and that this time we can work through new changes all as one, not separated by screens.