High School Students Talk About What It’s Like to Return

College students missed homecoming, subject journeys and courses, whereas additionally dealing with nervousness and financial precarity. Now, they need to leap into the longer term, with the varsity’s assist.


WATERBURY, Conn. — This fall, there’s a surreal swirl of newness and oldness within the hallways of John F. Kennedy Excessive College: Black Lives Matter face masks and exhortations to drag them up — “Over your nose, please!” — but in addition ribbing and laughter, bells ringing, corridor passes being checked and loudspeaker reminders in regards to the costume code (collared black or navy shirts and khaki or black bottoms).

Kennedy was open for in-person studying most of final faculty yr. However households on this working-class, majority Hispanic and Black faculty district in Waterbury, Conn., opted out in massive numbers, with two-thirds of highschool college students ending final yr absolutely on-line.

This yr, solely college students with extreme well being considerations can qualify for distant studying, and thus far, no Kennedy households have been authorized.

Which means most juniors and seniors have returned to the constructing for the primary time in 18 months. They’re taller and extra mature — generally bodily unrecognizable, a counselor famous — however usually reeling from what the coronavirus pandemic has wrought: nervousness, financial precarity and educational wrestle.

The college is teeming with over 1,300 college students, greater than earlier than the pandemic, due to the closure of a close-by Catholic faculty and an inflow of households shifting from New York Metropolis searching for inexpensive housing.

A majority of scholars are making up lacking credit from failed programs, in keeping with the principal, Robert Johnston. Some are scared to enter the crowded cafeteria, so they’re allowed to eat and socialize in quiet school rooms. There have been a number of fights, and it’s clear some youngsters are struggling to manage their habits after a lot time at house, usually remoted from friends.

Earlier than the pandemic, Kennedy was on a trajectory of enchancment: The commencement charge went up from 73 p.c in 2011 to 84 p.c in 2019. Now, that progress is in danger, with many upperclassmen behind on school or profession planning. Some really feel that after 18 months of studying through laptop display screen, they have no idea academics effectively sufficient to ask for advice letters. Many hope to turn out to be the primary of their households to graduate from a four-year school.

“It is a completely wild experience,” Mr. Johnston stated as he stood in a hallway intersection directing college students to school rooms — many had forgotten the right way to navigate the constructing. “I’m still a little nervous. At the same time, it’s exhilarating.”

Listed below are the voices of Kennedy Excessive College. Interviews have been edited.

Seeing my mates had been the very best a part of my day. Going to high school, hanging, doing no matter.

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It was so draining being on social media; staring on the telephone display screen all day. There was quite a lot of drama occurring to start with. The quarantine made you lose quite a lot of mates.

And we by no means bought a pep rally. I’ve by no means been to a homecoming. I’ve by no means been on a subject journey. Are we going to have the ability to have Senior Day?

My freshman yr, I knew the varsity just like the again of my hand. However once I got here again for junior yr this fall, I didn’t know the place something was. I felt prefer it was my first time being there.

I used to offer folks hugs; give high-fives. Now it’s a fist bump or waving hello. You don’t need to contact folks like that anymore. You don’t need to go close to folks. It doesn’t actually really feel “me,” as a result of I prefer to socialize, be in a dialog, be shut, be one-on-one. Simply to be in a bunch of individuals now and have enjoyable? It’s type of laborious. You by no means know if there’s Covid round. It’s scary.

It’s a utterly wild expertise navigating not solely the opening of college — which is at all times type of hectic — however opening faculty in the midst of a pandemic after not having that college be absolutely open for a yr and a half.

College students haven’t been collectively, and the way they’re dealing with interpersonal battle isn’t the very best. There’s some social media drama. It may rapidly escalate. We had a longtime tradition within the constructing earlier than the pandemic. Now we have to reestablish that ecosystem.

It’s shocking simply how remoted many college students had been all through the pandemic. There are extra college students who’re having nervousness.

We have now numerous college students who actually don’t need to go into the cafeteria. The sheer variety of college students is absolutely inflicting quite a lot of nervousness.

Math is the largest educational problem, and that was true even earlier than the pandemic. We’re offering tutoring and credit score restoration, which stimulus {dollars} are serving to pay for.

However what lots of people don’t take into consideration is the lack of time when it comes to school or profession planning. Usually when we have now college students in individual, we begin this early, in ninth grade, speaking about what steps you possibly can take even at 14. Whereas we tried to do quite a lot of that stuff whereas we had been digital, we weren’t as profitable. Now we have now juniors beneath the gun enjoying catch-up with their school planning.

Usually it’s quite straightforward for a scholar to ask for a school advice letter. However how effectively do employees members truly know college students who haven’t been in individual for the final yr and a half?

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Initially of the pandemic, I moved to Waterbury with my mother and youthful sister. I grew up within the Bronx. However my mother wished to get a home. This was the very best place, the very best neighborhood.

I attempted going to high school in individual for a number of weeks sophomore yr, however we needed to keep house each few days as a result of one individual would catch a case after which the entire faculty would shut down. Additionally, staying house was simpler on my mother and sister. My mother was working in individual as a social employee in New York Metropolis.

Within the morning, I’d be sure that my sister was awake and bought on the bus for kindergarten. Then I’d look ahead to her to come back house and assist her along with her homework. I’d be sure that she showered — give her meals to eat.

I didn’t need to be at house. And once I realized I wouldn’t have faculty sophomore yr, it actually took a toll on the thoughts.

I did effectively in my on-line courses. However I’d sleep into the afternoon after which do schoolwork for the remainder of the day. Then I’d watch TV and movies all evening into the morning. It was a repeating sample. There was simply a lot free time.

Now that I’m again at school, I’ve met quite a lot of new folks. Everybody appears so much friendlier and extra open. I’m enjoying volleyball. And I need to get entangled in the neighborhood, perhaps volunteer with the Pink Cross.

I need to go to varsity and get a doctorate in psychology. I at all times discover myself questioning, “What makes people think and act the way they do? And how can I, as a person, relate to them?” The pandemic made me extra self-aware.

I at all times joke round that freshmen don’t actually turn out to be freshmen till about midway by way of the yr. By means of Christmas, they’re just about nonetheless eighth graders.

Now I’m seeing them on the market within the hallways, and so they appear like they could possibly be 22.

Final yr, some college students had been working at supermarkets, pharmacies, eating places. McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts rent quite a lot of our children. College students had been contributing financially greater than they’d ever contributed prior.

The timing of working was simpler once they had been digital. Now that college will get out at 1:50, they need to take the bus house and so they have to alter into their work uniform. You need to remind them, primarily, that college is their precedence. It’s time administration. I’ve a part-time job myself working on the Hole, so I can speak with them about that.

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In April 2020, my grandmother in Brooklyn died of Covid. We had been shut — I lived along with her for some time. It was laborious to maneuver on from at first.

I didn’t go into faculty final yr. Each day life was totally different. I slept late and missed 80 days of geometry, which was first interval. I failed that class and did credit score restoration over the summer time. It was an internet program that took two hours per day for 2 weeks.

Now, I attempt my finest to be optimistic. Covid will not be going to final endlessly.

And actually, the pandemic opened my thoughts. I’ve been complimented so much on my writing, and final yr, I took journalism class on-line. I began to interview folks. And I additionally bought into pictures. While you’re trapped inside, it makes you need to exit extra. I began occurring walks previous my neighborhood to this space with woods. It was so peaceable, and I bought this urge to snap away. Now, anyplace I’m going, I can image an image.

My journalism trainer tells me I’m actually good at it. My mother and stepdad encourage me so much. They are saying I’ve to go to varsity. Now I’m taking journalism once more and can work on the varsity paper.

Final yr, I used to be educating within the classroom and, on the similar time, on video with the youngsters at house. Only some college students had been in-person, so the main target was actually on distant. Throughout first interval, folks can be in mattress. The toughest half was, while you inform tales within the classroom, you possibly can see in the event that they’re engaged.

However the expertise of distant studying will assist them in school on-line programs. Plenty of jobs are actually distant, too. Issues are altering.

Final yr I’d get migraines in all probability 3 times per week from being on the pc display screen a lot.

I really feel higher now that we’re again in individual.

Now I’ve to complete my school functions, however I really feel like I didn’t get an opportunity to actually give it some thought or, like, breathe with it. I’m overwhelmed.

I’m hoping for both UConn or Quinnipiac. However Quinnipiac could be very costly. I’m looking for no matter is least expensive. My gifted and gifted trainer makes positive we’re on prime of our school kinds. My mother didn’t go to varsity, and since she’s by no means gone by way of it, it’s actually laborious for her to try to assist me. I need to be a perfusionist. A perfusionist is somebody who controls a cardiac bypass machine throughout surgical procedure. The joke is that no one says that phrase aside from me. I discovered about it on “Grey’s Anatomy” and researched it.