Coming Back To School: A Unique September

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Madeline Chia

Students, though in school, still distance and wear masks in classes. (Image/Madeline Chia ’21)

Jamie Creasi, Online Staff Writer

Everything that has happened in the last few months has  been way beyond our wildest thoughts. Since March of 2020, we have somehow transferred to online learning, our most crucial resource has become a laptop and access to wifi, and wearing a mask and staying six feet apart from everyone around us has become part of our daily lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives, bringing us many burdens. In a blur, months have passed since “coronavirus” earned its spot in our daily vocabulary. 

But just like any other year, we finished school in June, eased into summer, and here we are, emerging into yet another school year at Princeton Day School. After a three month break, we are finally back and once again prepared for the year ahead of us. 

This year, however, school started very differently, compared to previous years. In fact, we consider ourselves lucky to even have the option to come back to school. Over the summer, the administrators, teachers, faculty, and staff members worked so hard to plan to safely reopenPDS. Upper School Math teacher Corinne Bilodeau shared that she “spent time with my colleagues discussing possibilities with teaching remotely or in a hybrid model and how to optimize the student experiences no matter what. We also engaged in deep discussions regarding racial issues.” Thanks to the hard work conducted over the summer at PDS, all students could come back to school, either virtually or in person, ready to learn. 

Before school started, we all had to debate two options: should we return to school, or stay remote? On one hand, returning to school means we could once again interact with teachers and peers and enjoy being in a school setting, even if we do need to wear masks and social distance. On the flip side, though, staying at home may be a safer approach for many of us, because it is not just about keeping ourselves free of the virus, but also about ensuring our family and others stay safe too. Sophomore Alex McInnes, who chose in person learning, noted that “it was much easier to learn in an actual school setting, and the isolation brought on by quarantine can be depressing at times. It’s awesome to get to see people/teachers again, and I trust the school has taken the steps needed to ensure our safety.” 

Conversely, freshman Amanda Chen, who chose remote learning, explained that she “originally wanted to go back to school, but my family ultimately chose online. I’ve already been kind of used to online classes since I took them all throughout the summer, so it wasn’t that big of a difference. It was a little weird though, since some students are in the classroom and some not. I personally would prefer to go to school since it would help me focus a bit more, but I’ve just got to work with what I have.”

In this school year, we welcome both new and returning students, regardless of the circumstances. For example, some 9th graders attended the middle school at PDS, while others are coming from a wide variety of other schools. Chen, a returning student here at PDS, emphasized that “since I was already at PDS in middle school, I feel like it was kind of an easier transition for me since I kind of already have a basic understanding of the school and some of my classmates. I ended my 8th-grade year with online classes, so there wasn’t too big of a difference when starting off freshman year with online classes. But since it is also the start of high school, and it is like a new ‘era’ so to speak, it is a little disappointing that I have to start it off with online classes.” 

The coronavirus pandemic has kept us in quarantine for a long time by now, but it was exciting for many students to start the school year off by gathering with peers in synchronous classes. The majority of the school chose to safely come back, and for those who did, experience almost seemed to be “surreal,” as McInnes described it. “We all left school to go out on our Spring Breaks. Some of us went traveling, some stayed home, but all of us expected to soon return to a building full of our friends and peers. To have that so suddenly taken away was incredibly strange, and many of us have returned to a building we don’t recognize, covered in tape arrows directing where we went and plexiglass installed on the tables of our learning spaces,” McInnes explained. 

Indeed, coming back to school has definitely been a strange experience for many of us, both mentally and physically. We needed to embrace new rules, such as wearing a mask and keeping our distances, but as McInnes added, “while the rules are, in many ways, a ‘hassle’ in the sense they are difficult to remember and maintain, they are there for a reason… if wearing a mask and standing apart from my friends allows me to learn in my preferred space and keep my family safe, I have no issues with them whatsoever.” We come to school wearing a mask and social distancing with our teachers and peers, but it is all for the best to keep us safe. 

We have already accomplished so much, and the school year has only just begun. In the last few months, we not only learned new curriculum, but we also adjusted to and embraced changes in our way of learning, and that in and of itself has been a mind-opening experience. As Mrs. Bilodeau put it, “When I think back to March 7th before spring break and look at teaching now, I am amazed how much it has changed.  There are definitely aspects of pre-COVID teaching that I miss and that I hope will come back such as group work!  But, I am also grateful for the moment to re-evaluate how we teach.  Anytime you are asked to change, you will grow.  I am confident that many of the new skills we are developing as teachers will be useful no matter what teaching in the future looks like.”

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