The Reopening Schools

By: Stephen Perez

View all Stephen Perez's works

Students share their challenges and opinions.

It has been a whole 17 months since the last time students had a normal day of school. That’s 17 months of change, confusion, infection, and, of course, screen time. After Covid first hit, we were told that we would return to the school building in two weeks. Instead, that number increased to the 2020-2021 school year and now, here we are, tired of being stuck at home all day and taking classes online. With a lot of people getting vaccinated, it might seem safe to return to school, but maybe returning to school is the spark needed to light the next pandemic with the Delta variant now on the rise. Are schools really prepared for the wave of children? Are schools really equipped to properly enforce CDC guidelines–and will students be able to comply and follow them? 

As a student at Columbia Secondary School, I am very excited to go back. But when I spoke to my friends, they did not have the same outlook on the upcoming year. They were still excited about seeing friends in person, but all had the same opinion of hating the actual in-person classes. This made me wonder: how many kids actually want to return to school and how many thought they were better online than they were in person? I’m curious about how many kids took it so far to not go to online school at all and whether they think their performance will change when they return to the classroom. Moreover, how many students believe that we are prepared to go back to school without starting a new pandemic? I wanted to know how kids actually felt about the new school year, if they really wanted to go back, and if students still want to stay home another school year. So, I ran a poll for teenagers across the country and got 70 responses on how they feel.

Question 1: Are you going back to school in person?

On this question, I got a whopping number of yeses, which I would have assumed, but it seems like not all states are mandating in-person learning; there are some no’s and students who have still not decided yet. While most states do not have an order in effect about schools, there are some that do and allow at-home learning. According to CNN, these states are California, Washington D.C.(District of Columbia), New Mexico, and West Virginia (which will only allow certain grades into school). All other states are still undecided, leaving school closure up to the schools themselves, or allowing school district officials to decide. A fraction of respondents indicating that they will not go to school in the poll shows that there is still some hesitancy about the new school year.

Questions 2 and 3: How do you feel about going back to school in person? Explain your previous answer.

Of the five survey questions, this one received the most mixed responses. Most people were ‘somewhat excited’ to go to school, showing that there was still a little of the realization that you are going to school. I then looked at how they explained their previous answer and started to notice two themes emerge. One of the themes is summed up by this response from a 14-year-old student: “I want to see people again but also not looking forward to the work.” One reason why students are on the fence about returning to school is that they want to see people, but remember not liking the work. The second theme is summed up by a 15-year-old who says, “It’s okay, I just don’t think it’s somewhat safe yet.” Students are excited to go back to class, but they are still not sure if it is entirely safe to return.

As I was reading farther through the responses, one interesting response brought a new topic to the table. “My parents are anti-vaxxers and won’t let me get vaccinated,” the 15-year-old student shared. “[They] make fun of me for wearing a mask already.” Anti-vaxxers have always been a big topic of controversy, but this perspective has gained even more attention over the last year. Those who hold this perspective might affect our schools reopening by not getting their children vaccinated. Now, these same anti-vaxxers are turning anti-mask with the new school year, says Politico, a worrisome trend that could affect infection rates. 

Question 4: Do you feel that we are ready and it is safe enough to return to school? (if you are not returning to school select N/A)

Most respondents indicated that they do feel it is safe enough to return to school. But what I want to focus on is the 25.7% of people who choose ‘I don’t know.’ This shows that there are people out there that still have questions and are not informed well enough. If questions were being answered and everyone were to get informed, perhaps this percentage would be a lot lower. On the one hand, schools opening is a great thing for kids, but on the other hand it’s still not 100% safe. As The New York Times stated, “Next week, a number of school districts in the South where case counts for Covid-19 are on the rise, including several in Alabama and Georgia, will begin the 2021-22 school year. Even more schools in Covid hot spots around the country, including districts in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, will welcome students the following week.” This raises concerns, as these places are Covid hotspots and the opening of schools could spread the disease even more. Even if these states say they are ready, people still have a lot of questions which may impact how they feel next year.

Question 5: Do you think you will do better in school than online? (if you are not returning to school then select N/A)

I expected most students to respond ‘yes.’ These students said that there were fewer “distractions” and “face to face with teachers,” which they said make it easier for them to learn and that was the reason they suffered during the digital year. 

One 16-year-old respondent shared, “I’m mentally disabled and online school is hard.” This brings up another issue in our community that is not talked about nearly enough: mental illness and how it affects learning. In normal school, this is where Special Ed classes come in and the kids get hands-on help with the work, but all of this is thrown out the window during online schooling. This problem doesn’t only apply to kids with mental illnesses, as many kids learn better with hands-on learning. In a study done by Purdue University, two groups of kids were taught about water quality, but only one group actually built a water purification system. This group, which had the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning, showed significantly higher test scores. This is probably a big contributing factor to why most kids said they will do better in school than in online learning. Even more information on this subject can be found here

Through this poll, I found the general view on the next school year and some new views on the new school year that I did not realize. Soon, we will return to the classroom and hopefully we will be back to normal business. As one student puts it, “I just want to see my friends again.”

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