By Uma Ribeiro and Leaana Khan

Editor-in-chief and Co-Editorials Editor

Image source: HCPSS HoCoSchools Instagram

The Bear Press asked Hammond students about their thoughts regarding the return to in-person instruction. Among all four grades, there was a shared feeling of concern regarding COVID-19, but many felt a sense of familiarity returning to school while others were excited to be in the building again or for the first time. 

The Return to School

How did students react to the decision to return to in-person learning this fall?

Image source: The Baltimore Sun

Many students feel that the county decision to have all students back was one that needed to happen. While some students were surprised at the decision, others fully expected to be back in-person full time this school year.

An overwhelming number of students agreed that being back in the building was necessary for the sake of mental health, a balanced school experience, and building of relationships with peers and teachers. Others think that the decision was an unexpected and hasty one with many risks involved. 

Senior Kelly Kujawa commented, “Honestly, I was kind of surprised [by the county decision to return in-person] because they’ve been super cautious about coming back to school…so I was kind of shocked that they let kids come back full-time, but I wasn’t surprised that they still wanted us to…have the mask.” 

She added, “…I don’t think it’s a good idea [to be back], health-wise. However, I feel like, at this point, it’s one of those things where you can only not live your life for so long.”

Junior Sanaa Nazir “…expected it to be more hybrid with both online and in person [schooling].” She commented, “It…surprised me because Covid still exists, [and] there [are] new variants…It’s kind of disorienting to be back in school.”

Freshman Emily Spak was also surprised, but was “…happy that it happened,” commenting that she “…missed the in-school experience.”  

Other students expected the decision and were eager to get back. 

Freshman Ava Lloyd commented, “I was definitely expecting it. I was kind of surprised that it took this long to go back.” 

“I was really excited…and really looking forward to seeing my friends. I think the masks aren’t really that bad in my opinion. So yeah, it’s good to be back,” said junior Matthew Hager. 

Sophomore Lauren Kidd added, “I think it’s a good decision because it makes kids more active, and we get better learning while we’re in school.”

“I always feel like I’m behind”: Adapting to being back after many months online

“I barely feel like junior year happened. It feels like we’re just picking up where we left off, but it didn’t take that long to adjust back to it,” said senior Melody Freed. “I think just being around people is still kind of weird after a year of being alone. It’s kind of weird being around a bunch of people like this.” 

Sophomore Lauren Kidd felt similarly, saying, “I had to take some time to adapt because it was really different from being online…especially [with being] around people.” 

“It’s weird because it doesn’t really hit me that I’m in high school because I basically did all of middle school online…So it doesn’t really feel like I’m actually in high school,” said freshman Emily Spak.

“I always feel like I’m behind. I feel like in terms of college [specifically], I feel like I’m behind on a lot of stuff even though I don’t think I am, but I still feel like a freshman sometimes. I don’t feel like a senior at all,” Melody Freed added. 

Others felt prepared despite the many months away from in-person instruction.

“Being online really taught me how to manage my time, so in that sense I feel really prepared because I know I can handle my own stuff. I feel kind of neutral about it, like “It happened, here we are…Honestly, everything felt really normal…It felt like just a normal day at school. It was honestly weirder because of how normal it felt ’cause it felt like all that time [in quarantine] hadn’t passed,” commented senior Kelly Kujawa.  

Online School Integration 

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The tools of online learning have made their way into in-person instruction, with all Howard County students in grades 2 through 12 having access to a Chromebook. Some students feel that because of this, workload has become heavier, while others see it as a resource to complete assignments more efficiently. 

“A lot more of our assignments are online, and before [online learning] I never brought a computer to school [because] I never felt the need to use one, but now I use it every single day for so many different assignments. I think [teachers] are trying to use canvas a lot more…too,” says senior Melody Freed. 

“A lot of my teachers decide to keep having us do work on the computer as well as us doing [work on paper],” commented sophomore Lauren Kidd. 

“I think it’s been familiar since teachers are doing online stuff even though we’re in the classroom…they’re doing a nice transition,” adds freshman Ava Lloyd. 

COVID Concerns and Safety Procedures 

Pictured above: poster near the gym with COVID-19 guidelines. 

With the announcement that students would be back to school, in the traditional sense, for the 2021-22 school year came excitement. But with that excitement came additional worries and anxieties surrounding the Coronavirus and the precautions needed to stay safe.

The Bear Press interviewed students about how they felt regarding current COVID-19 risks. 

Some students pointed out that many precautions and regulations seem insufficient. Others felt that there was not much more that could be done to keep students and staff safe from the potential risks posed by the virus. 

Freshman Ava LLoyd commented, “I’ve been kind of concerned about the cases in our school because in the hallways it’s really crowded, and I think that’s a breeding ground for [the Coronavirus], so that’s…worrying.”

“I think there should be more precautions because sometimes I’ll see people, even teachers, without…masks. It’s a little bit frightening. So I think there should be more rules and maybe even dress codes with masks…I’ve tried to keep myself safe by wearing a mask, sanitizing my hands, wiping down my desk and other communal objects…. I think that it should be mandatory, obviously, to wear masks, but I also think it should be mandatory to be vaccinated because then it’s less likely that Covid will spread around in our school,” added fellow underclassman Emily Spak. 

Senior Kelly Kujawa agreed, stating, “I feel like [the county] is kind of [unclear] with the precautions…It’s not that I want more or less, I just feel like they should stick to one cause right now it’s very much in between, like [for example] we’re supposed to wear our masks all day but then at lunch we all simultaneously take them off, so I’m not sure how protected we are in general.”

Some students disagree with the county decision to be back in-person full time because of COVID-19 concerns, one of them being junior Sanaa Nazir, who commented, “I don’t agree [with being back in the building] because Covid is still a thing and there’s zero social distancing. Masks only do so much, and people don’t comply with the mandate. Cases are rising and people are sent home. [Being back] raised my concerns for the virus, and more precautions should have been taken. Lunch is bad because no one [is wearing] a mask.” 

Others feel that all possible precautions have been taken, and as long as they are following the regulations, they are comfortable being back at school. 

“It was a little concerning considering the fact that there’s a lot of people in one space and not everyone wants to wear their masks. Sometimes kids break rules. But, as long as I’m wearing my mask and I feel a little safe, [i’m okay],” says sophomore Lauren Kidd. 

“I guess I’m more concerned about the virus, just in general. But I feel like at least I haven’t heard anything about it spreading, and I feel like we live in a pretty vaccinated, Liberal area as it is, so I don’t think anyone here is particularly going to try and spread it, so in that sense I feel safe. But it’s also like “oh, we’re still technically in a pandemic, so are we safe?” senior Kelly Kujawa added. 

“With the circumstances, I feel like [the county] took every precaution possible. I’m not that anxious about it because I know a lot of people are vaccinated already, and I know that everyone is trying to be as safe as possible, so I’m not that concerned about it,” added senior Melody Freed. 

Despite Coronavirus concerns and readjusting to being back in the non-virtual classroom, Hammond students are choosing to view the return to school from a positive angle and are excited for what more is to come.