Photos by: Remi Goldstein (L) Charley Rich (R)

While in person students have the advantage of being social with their classmates and teachers, they still must sit six feet apart in masks. On the other hand, virtual students get the pleasure of doing school from their beds, in the dark, with their pets. However, they miss out on the opportunity to see their friends in the hall. Which would you choose?

The unordinary, yet ordinary life of a hybrid student

It started out as two weeks. Then it was six. Shortly after the six-week break, it was announced it would be until summer. The 2020-2021 school year came around and it was in-person cohorts, but for me, it became another seven months. As a student who was Zoom-schooled from the third marking period of sophomore year until the fourth of her junior year, my high school experience has been anything but ordinary.

When preparing for freshman year of high school, upperclassmen gave me advice on how to survive the daunting years that laid ahead. They told me: balance time wisely, don’t wait until the night before to study, drink the hot chocolate from the cafe, involve yourself within the school community, be nice to the teachers and embrace every opportunity West Essex has to offer. What once seemed like wisdom and advice became a fantasy of what I wish my sophomore and junior years were like: normal. The advice upperclassmen gave me were for the life of a regular student, but due to the contagious and threatening COVID-19, these tips became irrelevant as there was no cafe to buy from, time felt never-ending so there was no need to balance it, studying became an unfamiliar practice, choosing to talk to teachers was reliant on a microphone click and there was no way to involve myself in the community. 

Although some students were given the opportunity to occasionally come in throughout the first two marking periods and fully throughout the third, my parents wanted me to opt-out until they were fully vaccinated and I did not fight them on this request: partially because I understood their ask, but mainly because being asked to do school from bed did not feel like something to argue about. 

However with every day that passed, the more bored I got of sitting in silence staring at icons on a screen. What had started as my fantasy school year became a monotonous and boring routine which led me to realizing that the most dull days at West Essex are more lively than the best days on zoom. Missing what it felt like to be a kid in school, my craving for normalcy (and my parents’ vaccination) led me to come in for the fourth marking period.

I was excited and ready to unmute. 

After being in school for almost a full marking period, I am very happy with my decision to come in. As the year winds down and workloads decrease, being in school has been very socially refreshing and a breath of fresh air. At home I didn’t realize how much I missed conversing with my friends in the hall and talking with them on the track during social periods like gym. Additionally, I have already bonded more with my teachers in the past six weeks than I did during the seven months prior to coming in.

I won’t lie though, there are certain aspects to online school that I miss. There are days when I wish I could wake up at 7:41 instead of 6:30, do work from bed instead of a desk, be able to “log off” from class early and relax in ways that being in person prohibits. However on the days when coming into school seems dreadful and redundant, I remind myself of the months that I longed for the exhaustion and chaos that in-person school has and remember why being able to come in is a privilege. 

Last March I would’ve dreamt of the chance to do online school from my bed with half day schedules. However as this dream turned into a real life, yearlong, stubborn nightmare, I’ve been reminded to be careful what you wish for. It turns out that in reality, spending 12 months of high school isolated on a computer screen, staring at icons is a lot more draining than presumed. With similar time in high school spent online versus in person, I’ve realized coming to school is not only essential for academic success but is also responsible for social growth and meeting new people.

 Despite the fact that I blame COVID-19 for the loss of half my sophomore year and a majority of my junior year, the pandemic has reminded me to embrace the little things. The casual walks throughout the halls, cafe stops between classes and sitting in a classroom surrounded by friends was a routine that previously did not phase me, but have turned into moments I cherish.  

As life begins to return back to normal, I’m committed to not forgetting the value of the things I once took for granted. Coming into school for the fourth marking period was a needed reminder to embrace the norm because whether due to growing up or a global pandemic, it doesn’t last forever.

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