Return To School: Reflections, Expectations, and Reality


A year ago, at this time, Arcadia High School (AHS)  students were still in isolation, an ordeal that challenged the creativity, resourcefulness, and patience of youth stuck at home during the pandemic. Black screens, muted mics, awkward silences, and rows and rows of pixelated faces became the norm to us. Looking back at quarantine and the reflections we’ve made this past year, it was a dark, stagnant time: no seeing familiar faces, no sports to play or football games to cheer at, no plays and dances to attend. By Apr. 1, students were hopeful as schools across California tentatively opened their doors to a few anxious, and optimistic families, in hopes that everything would be back to exactly how it was before. But now that students are finally back on campus with in-person learning, the pandemic is still ongoing, and things haven’t returned to normal quite as easily as we expected. 


If there was one aspect of normal life that we sorely missed during quarantine, it was the frequent social interaction that went hand-in-hand with regular school. We transitioned from strolling the halls and chatting with friends to entering the occasional awkward breakout rooms, working alone in our bedrooms and never seeing classmates outside of a 5×5 Zoom screen. Online school was strange, lonely, and at times bitterly isolating—it was those lost connections with friends and classmates that felt missing from our daily lives. 

 To get through it, we clung to the idea that once quarantine was over, our social lives would go back to normal. In some ways, they have. Today, chattering students fill the corridors of AHS. The rally court bustles loudly at lunchtime again; the Homecoming dance is another essential high school experience saved by in-person learning. We laugh with others in class and see our friends and teachers daily—and yet things still aren’t quite the same. We wear masks for our health and others’ and, after so many months away from school, we struggle to recognize classmates we didn’t see throughout quarantine. Despite being entertaining, learning with others sometimes proves to be a distraction. Virtual learning inevitably caused some friendships to ebb away with distance and time. With the pandemic hanging over our heads at all times, it can also be hard to forget that socializing puts us at risk of contracting COVID-19—but although our social lives may not be what we hoped they would, at least our worlds have begun to open up beyond the virtual classroom. 



A major difference between online and in-person school is the school day scheduling. During online school, block scheduling made it so students alternated between their first and last three classes every other day except on Monday when all six classes were in session. On the rest of the schooldays, classes were almost twice as long, which allowed for more productivity during class, but were also sometimes mentally draining. 

Despite the longer class periods, there were undeniable conveniences that came with being at home. There was no need to lug around a heavy backpack as we went to each of our classes, which relieved some stress, as it was impossible to forget anything we needed for school since we were at home. But there were also definitely consequences of not being at school in-person. We couldn’t freely interact with our classmates. During group projects, the mute and camera buttons were our worst enemies, as people often didn’t feel the need to participate since they weren’t face to face. These restrictions on social interaction greatly impacted extroverts and people who felt alone in group projects in a way that could only be cured by going to school in-person. 

During school on campus, there was definitely a more communal and inviting atmosphere. We could easily chat with our friends and ask peers for help during class. We  also didn’t have to make a separate appointment and spend time outside of class to privately ask our  teachers a small question like we  would have had to online. Overall, the in-person school environment has felt less lonely and more open for communication.



Amidst the announcement of online learning, came the inevitable disappointments and hurdles of California Interscholastic Federation seasons being cut short, combined, or completely cancelled for student-athletes. With California in lockdown, some athletes traveled out of state in search of better opportunities, while others remained in waning optimism. If we were fortunate enough to play a sport outside of school, the freedom of not having to attend in-person might have allowed us the opportunity to pursue athletics with more flexibility. But for the majority of AHS student-athletes, being forced to wait and watch our hard work go to waste was a bleak reality. For seniors, the notion of not having a season was even more significant. With college approaching fast on the horizon, senior year was a make it or break it season for many. With the pandemic, many wouldn’t ever have the chance to prove themselves. Still, even as games were cancelled, we trained online, by ourselves, and under the guidance of our coaches (who never gave up on us) in hopes that we would eventually return to some semblance of normalcy. 

Now that restrictions have been lifted, whether we are able to participate in a sport or another extracurricular activity that we love, there is much to be thankful for. We know the rules may change, and that the return to play may be temporary, but we aren’t going to let that stop us. Because whether we are an athlete, dancer, or musician these are the things that make us stand out as individuals, drive us to be our best, and bring us together.

A year later, the return to in-person learning feels too incomplete and out-of-place to be called “a return to normalcy.” Just as how we adjusted to the world being put on pause a year before, we now must adapt to these new in-person circumstances. Yet some things have not changed much since we were last on campus. We still experience the burden of unexpected workloads, the timed tests, the last minute assignments dragging us into late hours, and the hassle of getting to school on time. We’re all stressed in some way. Whether it’s the physical burden of a long day or the mental strain of keeping up with a balanced life, all in all, we’re learning to acknowledge that this feeling of being overwhelmed is shared among us all.  Even so, this harsh side of reality shouldn’t dishearten us from finding a happy ending. We’re gradually seeing progress within our world: the administration of COVID vaccines, the implementation of health safety regulations, the decline of COVID hospital admission rates. 

In some ways, the transition back to in-person learning hasn’t been as smooth as we hoped it would be. But with this new school year, we’re returning to a more animated, involved environment.  This school year may have its challenges — but just as we did in quarantine, we’ll keep moving forward. 


Photo by Matt Ragland on UNSPLASH.COM