A glimpse into in-person school

Kavita O’Malley

I went back to school on February 4 for the first time in seven months and let me tell you…it was weird. Classes are very small, with only a max of 10 students and one teacher per classroom who are wearing masks and social distancing at all times. 

I’m sure most of us can remember the view of arriving at school; tons of students walking from the Metro to the front doors, where we crammed ourselves into the building and waited in long lines to go through the metal detectors. 

Walking to the front and not seeing that was depressing. When I entered the building, I was the only one there. There are signs on the doors and stickers on the floor reminding everyone to socially distance and wear a mask. There are two tables set up where teachers took my temperature and asked me if I had any COVID symptoms or had been in contact with anyone with COVID recently. 

After that, I went through the metal detectors and into the atrium. In an attempt to control the movement of people through the building, students sit in the atrium until they are dismissed to go to class.

 It was strange to sit so far away from everyone, hearing only quiet whispers in comparison to the loud energy that used to constantly occupy the atrium. After being dismissed, we head to our classrooms which had been set up to comply with CDC social distancing guidelines.

When I arrived at my Honors Chemistry classroom, there were four open tables. Though they were meant to seat four people each, we each got our own table. My teacher assured us that everything had been wiped down thoroughly but offered us the option to wipe everything again ourselves if it made us more comfortable. 

If I’m being honest, the first session of my class in person didn’t feel all that useful. Even though it was nice to be in the classroom setting, my teacher just talked to the class on the computer and I didn’t see a huge difference in the classroom experience versus at home.

 It was clear teachers were still adjusting to the idea of having some people in person and some at home.

Following our first class, we stayed in the same classroom to join our second period virtually. I found this weird because I had the structural element from being in an actual classroom, but everyone was in their own respective class. 

Overall, my first day went by with barely any problems. The Teams meeting worked pretty much the same as it would at home. The only issue was, as I’m sure we all remember, DCPS WiFi blocks almost everything. During the asynchronous work period, I couldn’t access Google Docs. However, aside from not being able to drink water because it required removing your mask (which was annoying), that was the only problem I faced. 

After our classes, we were dismissed at the same time and were expected to immediately exit the building. Leaving the building was just as jarringly different from past years as entering.

In the end, I was a little on the edge about whether or not I wanted to go back. But my parents reminded me that even getting out of the house for a little bit each week is something. 

I know people who were offered spots and turned them down because they felt the personal benefits weren’t worth the risk. 

When initially making the decision to return to school I was excited about the opportunity to see people and just get out of the house and all of those things still applied. 

Additionally, throughout the pandemic, I have struggled with my mental health. Going back to school was an opportunity for a change in scenery and to possibly improve my mental state. 

Despite my initial hesitancy, I have continued to return in person and the experience has definitely improved. We have had the opportunity to do two labs so far. In the most recent of the two, we were trying to make a hand warmer and the advantage of being in person was clear. 

Those of us in the classroom got to test actual chemicals, whereas the people from home had to use an online program. In a class like Chemistry, the hands-on element really adds to my general understanding of the material, so I feel really lucky that I get to have that in-person element— even if it’s only once a week. 

Generally, I feel pretty safe while in the building. Granted, it’s hard to feel truly safe inside anywhere anymore. But everyone I saw was not only wearing a mask but wearing it correctly, and many people were even double-masked. 

It was clear that the school was being careful with the precautions and actively upholding the social distancing rules. The environment was a forceful reminder of how significantly our world has been changed by the pandemic and makes me wonder if it will ever go back to the way it was before.