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I am delighted to share the following reflections submitted by my students as part of Global Student Project My Return to School During Covid19. My students look forward to reading their peers’ reflections from other Jesuit schools around the world.  Thank you! 

Returning to School: Casey, 15, Bellarmine College Preparatory, USA 

This is my experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. As people are returning back to school, we look toward a more hopeful future and to a safer community ahead. However, as the pandemic rages on, my experience of COVID-19 is marked by fear and anxiety. Choosing whether to go back to school or stay remote was a tough choice, but I ultimately chose to stay home because of the growing concerns over the virus. Although it has been almost a year already, there are still more and more cases surfacing and just recently, a couple people I know caught COVID-19.

While online school, with all of it problems with dropping calls, and stressful online tests, I believe I made the right choice for me to stay home. With increasing restriction on interacting with others. In-person school seemed like the perfect chance for me to see other students again, making it an even harder choice to stay home. However, despite the latency issues and the constant screen time of technology, technology has allowed me to connect with a wider range of people now. Through online platforms and through apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and Discord – I can talk to more people and make new friends. So, while choosing to not go in-person was hard, I know it is the safer thing for my family for now and I have found new measures to continue to connect with others.

I believe that while all of us may be desperate to find normalcy within society again, we can’t permit large gatherings and congregations of people in things like concerts or crowded masses. After this pandemic, our overall perceptions of how things work and also about hygiene in general has shifted. I personally would be very uncomfortable going to something will over 50 people right now, and especially if it were to be indoors. However, the vaccine changes all of this. While still requiring us to stay safe, I believe that the vaccine is our chance to achieve societal normalcy again. However, I don’t believe we should force everyone to get one immediately. I think that in the end everyone should get it, but the concerns over it are valid and many people are scared. I think that once confidence in the public eye has been gain for the vaccine then we can start mandating that everyone needs to get it. However, one of the big problems with the vaccine is overall accessibility, internationally too. Thus, I don’t expect any widespread vaccine usage to happen until a couple months or even a year from now. However, I remain optimistic, and I believe that schools and public places need to do everything they can to keep people safe before returning to “pre-COVID” procedures.

Returning to School: Charlie, 15, Bellarmine College Preparatory, USA 

I have enjoyed returning to school on campus this semester. This may be because of how bad online school is because on-campus school still has a little way to go.

The three worst things that happened because of school going online were that sports were canceled, it was hard to see my friends, and because school is a lot more difficult and boring online. To start, my baseball season was canceled, which was a disappointment considering how excited I had been for it. Next, I couldn’t see some of my school friends, which I was sad about, and could only do stuff with them online and over the phone. The last issue that arose was about online school itself. What I usually like about school is the interactive and collaborative aspect of it, whether that is working in a group, presenting a project to the class, or doing a lab for science. So, since taking notes for 6 hours a day, then doing homework, and eventually studying for tests were the only part of the curriculum left, it was harder to enjoy school.
Add that on to the distractions and WiFi/technology issues, and it is easy to see why most students, me included, don’t like online school. However, going back to school in person has a chance to remedy all of these issues. Moreover, most sports seasons are expected to happen, I can see many of my friends in school, and school will hopefully become more interesting and collaborative as more students and teachers return to campus. Clearly, I am hopeful that returning to campus will create a more enjoyable atmosphere and curriculum for school, which it has already started doing.

I think that students and teachers should be encouraged to take the vaccine if it means that they would be more likely to go back to school in person. The goal should be to get everyone back to school as quickly as possible. Everybody has different comfort levels with the virus; if somebody would feel more comfortable coming back to school if they had the vaccine, then they should take it. I also think that teachers should be prioritized in getting the vaccine because it will improve the education system if they are back in school. After all, school is a place, and school is designed to be taught in that place, a distraction-free classroom, which people’s homes are anything but. Whether the distraction is a student being on their phone, parents arguing in the background, or multiple other siblings taking their online classes in the same room, we can all agree that every student is unable to commit 100% of their focus and energy to school. Any second of being taught online is less valuable than any second taught in a classroom.

Therefore, school going to full in-person should be a priority, by all of the students, teachers, and lawmakers. There should be less of an urgency to open up bars and restaurants, and to return to large gatherings at events such as assemblies, mass, and sports. This is because all of the things just listed, other than school, can easily be done online. Besides, bars, sporting events, assemblies, etc. are all much more dangerous at spreading the virus than school. At school, it is easy to regulate and enforce such policies as correct mask-wearing and proper social distancing, which is hardly seen at bars and large gatherings. That being said, I think that some large gatherings can return with limited capacity. For example, if baseball games had about 5,000 people wearing masks in a 40,000 person stadium, it would be tough for the virus to spread between everybody. All in all, school should be one of the first priorities to open back up, and if students and teachers receiving the vaccine helps that, then they should take it. Therefore, large gatherings should continue to be postponed unless possible in a limited capacity, outside, with masks on, such as baseball games.

Returning to School: Chase, 16, Bellarmine College Preparatory, USA 

My experience in the pandemic: Restrictions to Interacting with other students. I think that if I have learned anything from the pandemic it is that I can be perfectly happy without being around other people. I do not want to sound like an introvert when I say this because I am not.

Before the pandemic, I loved going to school and seeing my friends and being able to talk to them about funny or cool things. However, I think the pandemic has shown a side of me that also finds a healthy peacefulness in being alone. I think the main reason I have enjoyed being alone is because I have had a chance to think about myself much more. I have been able to reflect and realize more about myself than I have been able to normally.
Also, I think that I have strengthened some pre-existing friendships much more because I have had to really put in effort to get in touch with them. Now, whenever I get the itch to talk to someone, I have to schedule and really make meaningful time with them. Reflect on the issue of following the rules: Should we return to school with larger gatherings. I think that we should take our return very slowly because we will probably return before the cases are very low and everyone has had a vaccine.

I do not think that we should return with full gatherings because I think it is risky and unnecessary. I think it is unnecessary because most of the time, it is for giving information and that can be given through emails or teachers. On the topic of masses, I think that we should figure out a way so that not everyone is in the same room at one given time.

Returning to School: Connor, 15, Bellarmine College Preparatory, USA 

When I watch the video of Sam Kim, I can see through his emotions that he is sad about the current situation and its restrictions that come with it, but I can see how he does his best to live everyday how he normally would. He makes sure to hold onto his memories that he holds dear and makes sure that he continues to communicate with his friends, so he doesn’t lose his previous relationships. When I see the artwork from the students in Spain, I believe the girl they depicted is Disney princess Moana. From what I remember in the movie, Moana is a girl who is trapped on her island with her tribe and longs for an adventure overseas and escape is the only thing she has on her mind. In this picture, I can see the same idea of escape when I see the exit sign in her head as well as a clock. I believe I see the theme of struggle and wishful thinking in this drawing.

I am currently one of the students that are staying at home, so the back-to-school situation has not affected me at all. However, I saw this as a warning to let me know that I will be attending school soon like how I normally did my freshman year, so I need to start creating habits to help me prepare for a normal school life. This includes getting up earlier and making sure I have all the materials I need for my classes. Having an option of whether we want to attend school came at me by surprise because I thought Bellarmine would make it mandatory to attend school on different days. The restriction of communicating with students however I was sure that it was going to happen. I believe, once I return to school, that technology issues would be easier to handle since the help desk is only a short walk away. Also, the WiFi signal at my house is very bad so most likely, working at school compared to at home is easier.

When it comes to physical activities, because I swim, I know the lanes at the BCP pool are going to be a lot more spaced out and fewer swimmers are going to be allowed at practice at a time, the swimming coach at Bellarmine explained to us that we would have to wear a mask at all times until we enter the pool. Besides these changes, I do not think anything else will really change about my sports schedule that will impact me. When it comes to large gatherings such as Masses and Sports events, I believe that students and faculty should be allowed to gather as long as they have been tested negative for Covid. When a safe vaccine for Covid-19 has been created, I highly encourage that students and teachers and everyone else working on campus should take the vaccine, however I do not think forcing them to do so would be taken lightly. The vaccine will lower the chance of covid significantly, but I know that there will be a handful of people who will refuse to take the vaccine for personal reasons.

Returning to School: David, 15, Bellarmine College Preparatory, USA 

I haven’t been on campus for a day, but I have gone back to pick up supplies and for ceramics. The protocols were different, as we couldn’t do projects in the studio and had to work outside. During each trip we had to take a survey to tell if we were unwell or fine. If you weren’t feeling good or had any symptoms of covid-19 you shouldn’t come to campus. But these protocols would prove to be inefficient as there would still be cases that we asymptomatic.  So, it was added that double masks and more enforcement of social distancing which helped. On campus Wi-Fi and internet connections would mostly go through. However, at home power lines could go out, or the Wi-Fi wouldn’t connect for me or anyone else as too many people were on. In the situation of the fires, me and my sister had to go over to our other house where my Aunt had been staying. But since the Wi-Fi wasn’t as good there, both my parents and sister had trouble connecting. The same nearly happened to me on several occasions.

For sports it was unfortunate that sports I was considering joining wouldn’t be having a season. Sports like wrestling for example which required more contact. But for the most part I wasn’t heavily impacted by it like many others. Distancing and certain sports not having seasons was unfortunate, but we still have each other in this time. I think at the end of the day that is what truly matters. Though until we get through the pandemic, larger gatherings like assemblies should be avoided. The vaccine I think should be distributed to teachers and students separately when it is available.

Returning to School: Domnin, 15, Bellarmine College Preparatory, USA 

Overall, the return to school situation has been much more underwhelming that I originally thought. Last spring and during fall when Bellarmine was discussing different programs with different groups of students, I was dying to get back to campus and finally have a ‘normal school life’. However, what I later realized that much of what I was looking forward to would unfortunately not be possible for the near future.

Originally, I thought school would be almost exactly the same as before when we returned, with me and my friends being able to meet up in between classes, at lunch, and after school fors ports or to take the train. Now that I am back to school, almost all of my friends are either in the other group, or do not come to school at all. And even the few that are in the same group as me don’t take the train anymore or don’t have the same classes as me.
Lunch is also a lot more boring now, since there are no activities going on like intramurals ports and the lack of friends makes it seem like there is no festive atmosphere. Classes are also a lot more boring than originally anticipated, both virtually, and on campus. Not that level of quality of the classes has dropped, but it is just simply impossible to reproduce the genuine atmosphere of a busy classroom full of students.

In my opinion, Bellarmine should continue the Ignatius/Loyola program or system while simultaneously providing a program for kids who want to have sports and want to be more on campus than the already existing program. But, I think Bellarmine should only let kids into this program if they and their teachers accept to take the vaccine. In other words, I think Bellarmine should continue to let people stay at home or come 2-3days a week while also letting some kids come 4-5a week and participate in sports only if they are vaccinated. This way the people that want to stay home can stay home, the people that want to come to school but without taking too many risks can do that, and the people that want to have an experience most similar to a ‘normal school’ can do that as well, but they have to be vaccinated. This way the people that want to stay home can stay home, the people that want to come to school but without taking too many risks can do that, and the people that want to have an experience most similar to a ‘normal school’ can do that as well, but they have to be vaccinated.

Returning to School: Dylan, 16, Bellarmine College Preparatory, USA  

It is difficult to remain sane and calm when everything is going wrong in the world around you. I have been fighting this war since the lockdown began last March. When the Covid-19 impacted my school, I was scared at first, but then I calmed when Bellarmine decided to teach us remotely. It was difficult because staring at a computer screen intensely for a period I am less enthusiastic about is hard.

To add to difficultly, my other two sisters were home with their online learning, making it challenging to have enough space to have each of us learn without interrupting each other. Then WIFI became an issue. Microsoft Teams must use a lot of WIFI to stay online because when the WIFI down from 4 bars to 3, I would get kicked from the meeting or my screen with freeze and y audio will glitch out. 3 months of this was hard by itself, but I made it through the year.

Initially, I thought the pandemic will be over by August, and I was horribly wrong. Lockdown continued over summer into the new school year, and nothing changed from last year. WIFI cut in and out impacting my learning I was on the verge of tears at the end of the first week. I could not see one of my teachers on my screen teach us how to create mugs or another teacher show me the first few moves of Tai Chi or even listen to the audio in my Biology class. Even with my camera off, I was still lagging and it impacted my learning. I was on the edge of losing it. I was looking up methods to keep MS Teams from lagging. I learned about the income video feature. I can turn of the cameras of my classmates on my screen, and I can suddenly hear my teacher better. The only downside is I cannot see my teacher, so it was useless in Tai Chi and Ceramics but it worked great in my other classes.
The start of the 2nd semester was going better for me in 2021. Until everything came crashing down with all the politics and economics. Remaining calm when people are storming the government is not easy. I remember watching it with my sister on Fox TV. It was horrible to watch. The police and national guards were beaten up by the rioters, windows and doors were smashed, and fires were everywhere. Then 3 weeks later, when GameStop stocks skyrocket, I was happy because the Redditors found a way to unite and destroy the Hedge funds on Wall Street. Then I found out the stocks nearly crashed the economy, and the government was going to bail out the hedge funds and I got sad again. Recently, Xfinity, our internet company, decides to charge us more money for the past 2 months, making my Dad freak out because we were close to going over the plan. Two days without doing homework is not great for me because I had a huge essay to write for English.

Overall, the image I have chosen to draw reflects on all the problems I have been forced to overcome. However, too much of it has caused me to go insane, like the dog in the picture, remaining calm even when their house is on fire. 2020 has not been a good year, but hopefully, the 2021 school year will be better for me and all the students suffering out there because of their online issues, loneliness, and their sanity.

(The picture above is the “This Is Fine” meme. Credits go to KC Green, who came up with this comic. I used this image as a way to explain what it is like for a student in the pandemic.)
Dylan, 16, Bellarmine College Preparatory, USA

Returning to School: Elias, 15, Bellarmine College Preparatory, USA 

For me my “returning to school” situation has been pretty chaotic at some points, but also peaceful at others. Finding ways to commute to school, learning a new schedule, extra precautions to follow we all pretty chaotic, but at the same time the school environment is peaceful since there is on average three students in person per classroom.

The school environment is what I expected when coming back, except the disconnection between in-person and online students when class is in session, which I didn’t really suspect. I haven’t been participating in sports, but I’ve heard from friends that it completely different and not what it used to be. I can’t even imagine how basketball and football teams could practice, it would be very limited.

But overall I’m glad to be back at school and see my classmates again, even though it’s limited. In my opinion, we shouldn’t return to school and have full-scale assemblies, mass and sporting events. It’s already a risk to be returning to campus, right now I feel like assemblies, hundreds of people in an enclosed space would be too risky, and would not be worth it. The less we put others in danger the sooner we can get back to normal, although we might never fully recover for a long time.

I think schools should encourage people to take the vaccine, but not have it be a requirement. We shouldn’t think of the vaccine as a must, we should think of it as an added protection bonus to our current situation. We’ve been able to handle the risks without any vaccine, even in the future if only some people had the vaccine while others didn’t it would still be okay.

Returning to School: Emmanuel, 16, Bellarmine College Preparatory, USA 

To start off, Covid-19 has affected so many schools and students and as we are slowly going back to normalcy, we must take extra precautions to keep us and others safe. My coming back to school has been an interesting one. I was going to come back to school after break, but my parents didn’t let me because of my grandmother who is old and can catch the disease easily. I do not really have restrictions on who I can meet with outside of school, but I miss being in a school environment with all my fellow classmates. Like others, I constantly have some tech issues, either wifi not working or my surface crashes, but I have gotten used to tech issues and this pandemic has really taught me how to deal with issues and how to fix them.

Getting back on campus should be mandatory in the next school year as the vaccine is rolling out to more and more people every week and I think by then we should be back in class. I personally don’t think the vaccine should be mandatory because people do not like being forced into doing something they do not want to do. I think the vaccine should be optional. I think schools should reopen completely by next year, the only thing that might stay is the masks which isn’t really a issue, sports, mass, and assemblies should reopen.

Returning to School: Ethan, 15, Bellarmine College Preparatory, USA 

COVID for me really has not been very rough. I have been lucky enough to not experience any losses, and through constant tests I have been able to go out and see friends on occasion. Even without in-person socializing, I have learned to use video calls and they really help.

Recently, I have decided to return to in person school. I have found it hard to be able to get up in the morning, which was something I would do regularly no more than a year ago. I switched groups to Ignatius, meaning I have a separate lunch period than everyone. That kind of sucks because it limits the time I have to socialize, and that was the main reason for returning to campus.

I think that once we start moving tiers as a county, then larger gatherings should really be considered. It has been hard on everyone at home with limited social lives. Something that comes with these large gatherings is for everyone to get the vaccine. Even if you are not scared of getting the virus, you can still spread it around to people that are high-risk. Teachers should get their vaccines, because they are dealing with multiple groups of people, and the risk is too great to not get the vaccine.

Returning to School: Ethan, 15, Bellarmine College Preparatory, USA

My “return to school” started much like the same way my “retreat from school” occurred back in March of 2020 – alone, on my school computer, and working for 6 hours a day without near any human interaction. However, with my original “retreat” from in-person school, I had isolated myself out of family fears that I may have caught the very virus forcing my “retreat” in the first place. However, my “return” to school came out of necessity for maintaining the norm of learning in place, a virtual workplace setting in which I am fortunate enough to maintain my education, at the cost of most in-person interaction besides members of my household. While this process was expected to occur considering COVID-19’s unwavering threat to spread and kill the vulnerable, I could not help but think of all the in-person robotics builds to work as team, the projects I could contribute on to the Maker-Lab to make a real-world impact on my community, and the overall connections I had lost at school to ensure a more rapid recovery.

Even within-person options to return to school in a hybrid learning model opening up towards the wintertime of this year, a solid section of students like myself end up staying in the virtual setting anyways to ensure the safety of those we interact with; my immune-suppressed sister and my working dad come to mind for those I protect in sacrificing my in-person instruction.

Besides the quality of my education in order to ensure the health and safety of those around me however, my virtual “return” to school came with other notable costs, one of which being the quality and reliability of internet determining whether or not I could actually receive said education. When natural forces like the recent wildfires and heavy winds caused power outages, not only were my classes unreachable at times, but actual instructors ended up having to teach from the mobile devices on their own accord to maintain consistency in classes.

The whole situation of the “return” to school did not match the memories of pre-pandemic learning that classmates and I have learned to cherish over the months but provides the starting foundation to an eventual return to a “better normal” with the reflections in our quarantined-interaction times. However, to reach the point where all students can “return” to school in full legitimacy, there must be incremental steps to reopen in line with the frequency of COVID-19 cases, to ensure the safety of students when possible.

Gatherings of large amounts of students should eventually return to the realm of possibility, however social distancing rules and standard COVID-19 procedures should remain in mind. Something like the Class of 2020’s graduation was able to still take place with the right outdoor procedures in-mind, providing a meaningful celebration of accomplishment even in the face of COVID-19’s adversity. Outdoor sports events with low amounts of physical contact could also see a reasonable return on a school wide level for something like tennis or cross country if social distancing is possible. Overall, the return to gatherings of school spirit should make their returns to normalcy in increments of restrictions to not open the flood gates for the spread of disease. Part of what will assist in the incremental return of these gatherings however is widespread vaccinations among the population to reduce the spread and effects of COVID-19, which is why I support a requirement for students and staff to eventually be vaccinated when possible and physically able to do so. While getting vaccinated remains a choice on the greater level of society out of fears of government overreach, a requirement or in-person individuals learning at school would help reduce the spread of disease further so that incremental restrictions maybe lifted sooner so that more may return. With the large group of students like me who have yet to make their true “return” to instruction on school campus, we know that re-opening schools is not an all or nothing ordeal. However, a vaccine requirement would greatly assist in speeding up the process so that eventually all may make their true “return” to school.