Back to School: 7 Months Later
Issue 13, Volume 111
A little over a year ago, the Stuyvesant routine we all know and love was put on pause. Now, the time for us to slowly press play has arrived. Just a few months ago, I was frankly too scared and too stressed out to even imagine going back to school. I’d forgotten all the joy of in-person learning, which I now realize I took for granted. But my internal suffering had gone on long enough.
Waking up at a relatively early hour again was as horrible as it was for as many minutes as it took for my brain to process being awake, but once that was settled, I brushed my teeth and put on a complete outfit for school for the first time since March. Yes, this did include proper pants and shoes, something many of us haven’t experienced in a while. I practically bounded down the stairs of the subway, feeling the adrenaline rush of barely catching the train before its doors closed, then it proceeded to accelerate down the tracks.
A comforting sight: adults wearing suits looking barely sentient as they pulled up their masks in between coffee sips, cold metal poles breaking up the blue benches, and the random yet calculated spotted pattern donning the floor. It’s been so long since I last race-walked down Chambers Street with fire fueling the soles of my feet while trying to avoid being late.
I greeted every security guard with some variation of “good morning!” because boy, have I missed people. After completing the most physically intense act so far of getting the second floor double doors open, I was met with the ID scanner, the newly-implemented touch-free thermometer, and the staff waiting to check my health screening. The lack of people crowding the hallways reminded me of times I was incredibly late to class, taking the walk of shame up each step and waiting to be questioned by a teacher. But surprise! There was no teacher because I was… early? Nice.
I walked into the third floor gym and once again greeted the staff with the ever-so humble yet criminally underrated “Good morning!” It was indeed a good morning. I made my way to the seat labeled A9, right in front of the gym entrance. I felt so blessed. During the next ten minutes or so, I sat anxiously waiting to see who would come through those very doors. Some friends arrived! Nice! Seeing my friends at school has never been more exhilarating. We exchanged a couple words of acknowledgement and pretty much went about our days, characteristic of a normal return to school.
As people slowly trickled into the gym, my social battery immediately recharged. The rustling of papers and the clacking of keys livened the previously desolate gym. Since Windows didn’t want to connect to the WiFi, I simply connected to my hotspot. No biggie. First period physics had a whole new wardrobe today. Instead of the ripped shirt and socks in desperate need of a wash, class felt more like Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”: so put together, so confident, so intriguing. Answering questions was a bit awkward at first, but I soon realized that no one in the gym (at least to my knowledge) minded me and my enthusiasm for the entire day, even in my breakout rooms where I practically burst out laughing at times. I completely forgot these people were all at home, and I was basically on FaceTime with all of them while being moderated by a teacher’s presence.
None of the staff in the gym were bothered by any of our activities. No one stared at me while I asked my teacher whatever random questions popped into my head. Since we’re all students, we’re legally obligated to have adults in the room, but they had their own business to attend to. Don’t fret, no one can hear you when the question asked requires a qualitative answer, and you said “16.” My face gets red and sweaty at times like this too.
To be completely honest, this was the first day I took legitimate notes all year, not just scratching some formulas and dates on a page and calling it a day. My note-taking skills definitely need some fine tuning but it was nice to finally be an active member of a classroom again. In my efforts to copy down every diagram, I actually felt myself learning actual material again, which was a wonderful feeling. The same real-life class sentiment remained when my teachers sent the class into breakout rooms and the first sentence anyone said was, “So what are we doing?” Class got ten times more exciting when I was put into a breakout room with all my friends who were at home.
“Where are you, Krista?” one of my classmates asked in one of the breakout rooms.
“How many people are there?”
“Um… I can’t estimate but maybe around 15? 20?”
“Oh, cool. What’s it like?”
“It’s a fun time; I got my little desk all set up with my notebooks, my computer, and I can even have my phone out. 11/10 would recommend.”
My second period class, Spanish, began with the same conversation, only this time I recited my lines in Spanish. Who would’ve thought? That day, Assistant Principal of Languages Francesca McAuliffe popped into our Zoom. For some reason, having an AP visit your class via Zoom is a lot more intimidating than having them sit quietly in the back of your real-life classroom.
At the very satisfying hour of 12:30 p.m., my biological clock decided it was lunch time. The next twenty minutes were filled with chicken, broccoli, and APUSH. Quite a lovely combo, if I do say so myself. Participating today felt extra necessary, as if I had to make up for all the lost time. I felt so scholarly just perusing around in an educational setting.
Every trip to the bathroom was a walk down memory lane. The rows of lockers lining the third floor brought me back to sophomore year, when I’d see all my junior friends sipping their iced coffees and slowly closing their doors to proceed to class. Ah, the good ol’ days.
Freshly stocked soap and paper towel dispensers greeted my entrance to the restroom, and I can’t say I didn’t miss this part of the school, too.
In short, all my classes proceeded as they always had when I was at home. I still participated just as much (if not more) and my teachers still taught the lesson of the day. The only difference was that I now felt too embarrassed not to pay attention as I was in an actual school. I couldn’t bear the thought of my computer freezing on me because I tried to play coolmathgames.com while having 13 other tabs running. My priorities quickly changed. Instead of just trying to pass the time, I became one with the class. Instead of letting information pass through my ears, I felt like I was absorbing information better. My brain now returned to being the desperate empty sponge waiting to soak up knowledge I once knew it to be. Good to have you back, buddy.
As my last two classes came to a close, my glee was just ramping up. I bid all the staff in the gym and about the second floor a good night. I made my way down to Battery Park (which I know isn’t really Battery Park but everyone still calls it Battery Park). The tiny sculptures adorning the chess tables were still there and the flowing river, along with the boats sailing through it, remained unchanged. The small children still mosied across the lawn as well. After a few minutes of zen, I made my way to the subway for my journey home.
Nothing’s seemed to have changed, yet I know everything has changed. Going to school in-person is one of the best decisions I’ve made this school year. As much as we used to blame school for everything, from taking our beloved sleep away to forcing us to walk up what seemed like tens upon hundreds of flights of stairs, it’s the one constant in our current lives. The building that housed so many of our highs and lows is still there, unchanged, only now it’s an opportunity for you to take your thumb off the pause button that was the previous season of your life. Start a new episode, and see what plot you’ll get to experience. You’re the main character here, and it’s your choice whether or not you want to let another season pass you by.