Coming Back to School as a Sophomore


Chloe Wong, Campus Focus Editor

It was raining on Mar. 13, 2020, and across the state of California, public schools were shutting down. At the time, it all seemed novel: cheers went up in the hallways of Foothills Middle School (FMS) when our principal delivered the news. I left my math project in my geometry classroom in my haste to hurry home, assuming that after a two-week break brought on by the coronavirus, I’d have time to pick it back up again. 

I didn’t, of course. Those two weeks turned into four weeks stretched into six months into a summer. I finished up eighth grade virtually; I saw my family and my cats and no one else. A few tests I’d been panicking over were cancelled. So were the annual trip to Knotts, and my eighth grade promotion dance. 

And though I grieved the latter brieflyI’d already bought a dress to wearmy disappointment was short-lived. Summer passed in the blink of an eye, and before I knew it, I was a freshman trying desperately to adjust to online school, though the fact that I was now in high school barely registered with me.

How could it? The pandemic meant that there was no bustling lunch hour, no first Homecoming dance, no freshman orientation, no promise of this being the first of the best four years of my life. I’d always anticipated that ninth grade would be a milestone in my life, but my first year of high school didn’t feel as momentous as it should have. Stuck online and confined to Zoom classrooms, emotionally, I was still frozen in the late stages of eighth grade.

I didn’t mind at the timeI would have rather stayed at home than taken my chances with a deadly virusbut I never realized how much of high school I missed out on until the start of my sophomore year. This August, half of all Arcadia High School (AHS) students walked on-campus for the first time. I was one of them. While it wasn’t my first day as a high school student, I couldn’t have felt more adrift. Usually it’s the freshmen who can’t figure out where to find J-building or D-row; usually it’s the freshmen who stand around wide-eyed and unsure of themselves, having only recently graduated from middle school. 

I was just as clueless as a ninth-grader, if not more. At FMS, classrooms were labeled with numbers, not letters! We didn’t have to sprint halfway across campus for PE!  I remembered the names of my freshmen teachers, but couldn’t tell you which hallway their classrooms were located on. And that was when I realized it: no matter how much I wanted to believe I’d matured over quarantine, when it came to how well I knew my own high school, I was still fresh out of eighth grade. 

Everything was brand-new to me. Everything seemed to move so fast. Sometimes I still struggle to comprehend how bizarre my first year of high school was. I got through my classes, sure, but online school couldn’t even begin to replicate the feeling of seeing AHS’  massive student body, three thousand people strong, nor the school’s  vast, sprawling campus and the frenetic energy that comes from being surrounded by so many students  all at once. As a freshman, I got used to the quiet humming energy of virtual clubs and online meetings, but in-person school isn’t half as calm. There’s always a service club packing the lecture hall. It’s impossible to walk the courtyard without running into a spirit rally. 

And although we’re all adjusting to in-person school, the sophomores in particular seem to occupy a unique position. We’re not freshmen, but we might as well be. We’re not seasoned high school students, but we should be, right? I was supposed to have caught my stride in high school by now, considering the year of experience under my beltinstead, I still find myself asking upperclassmen for directions to the CTE building, and I wonder frequently if the second-year workload is meant to feel this impossible. 

That isn’t to say that I’m not enjoying being back in-personcan you go back to something you never properly experienced at all? In freshman year, I should have expanded my horizons, met new people, and involved myself in extracurriculars. The pandemic nixed most of that: I joined the clubs and organizations I could last year, but I wasn’t able to interact with other students the way I can now, and the return has allowed me to properly connect with the few friends I made online. 

So even if I’ve taken to occasionally commiserating with others over late-night homework sessions, cramped schedules, and exam prep, at least there are others to share my troubles with, friends to make me feel less isolated and alone. No matter how overwhelming school can feel at times now, having that support system makes the return wholly worth it…although the convenience of online learning will always have a place in my heart, that which allowed me to attend class in my pajamas.

I don’t know if I can say that I’ve gotten used to being on campus. It’s only a few weeks into the school year, and there’s a long, long way to go. Last September, AHS students were still online. The past months have been daunting for millions of high school students, but our lives are slowly shifting back to what they used to be, beginning with the return to in-person school. I made it through virtual learning, but being thrust into a new environment so suddenly has presented difficulties of its own. Through it all, I’ll try to optimistically think of this year as an introduction to what real high school is like: the crash course I desperately need in order to become a competent upperclassman by next fall.  

Even if it doesn’t feel like it, I’m a sophomore at Arcadia High School now. I can only hope that with time, this campus will feel as familiar to me as home. 


Graphic by Vanessa Valentino