Photo provided by Amber Alvarez
The once crowded hallways are now almost completely barren. Instead of the chit-chat she once heard while on her way to class, she now walks in silence. Her mask is the latest accessory to her school outfit. This is the new normal.
Junior Amber Alvarez enters the school cafeteria for her first period. It replaces her AP Biology classroom. A handful of students occupy the sea of empty seats that take up the large space, and she sits at a table, usually alone. She pulls out her laptop and headphones, logs onto Microsoft Teams, and begins to watch her teacher.
Alvarez is one of the 114 juniors attending in-person school for the second grading cycle.
“I chose in-person school over online school because, honestly, I was getting bad grades,” Alvarez said. “Also, I had trouble focusing because I would end up on my phone or falling asleep.”
Physically being in school allows Alvarez to make face-to-face connections with her teachers — something she believes is necessary to improve her grades. However, she still lacks face-to-face interactions with other students. She misses the feeling of a full classroom.
The bell rings for second period. Alvarez heads to her AP Language and Composition class. On the first day, there was another student in class with her, but now she is the only student, yet again. She listens to her teacher through the Teams meeting, even though she’s right in front of her.
This isn’t what she was expecting school to look like.
“I thought there would at least be a few people in each of my classes,” Alvarez said. “I thought people would be more eager to go back.”
She sits alone in all of her classes, leaving an empty feeling of nostalgia when all the seats were occupied.
10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
The pattern of empty classrooms and online learning continues. Her third-period class usually ends early, giving her a 15-minute break to spend however she likes. She spends her time either working on homework or escaping to the bathroom to break up the monotony of her day.
The bell rings, signifying the end of class. Alvarez grabs her backpack and heads out of school to go back home. She prefers to eat lunch and attend content hour from the comfort of her grey blanket on top of her bed.
“I don’t really see the point of staying for content hour because I can just do it from home,” Alvarez said. “Also, no one I know goes to in-person school so I don’t have anyone to eat lunch with.”
Even though in-person school is a lonely experience for Alvarez, the new reality of it doesn’t faze her anymore. She has adjusted to the new precautions and COVID-19 protocols. Even though most aspects of school, like class sizes, look different, she still appreciates the faculty and staff’s effort to bring more excitement to the school day.
“I really enjoyed spirit week,” Alvarez said. “People actually participated in the dress-up days and it was fun to see even though there are only a few people at school.”
Alvarez plans to continue with in-person school for the coming grading cycles. She has faith that the experience will improve.
“I think it will get better,” Alvarez said. “COVID is going to be a part of our lives. It’s not something that’s going to just go away. So people are gonna have to try to get back to normal.”