Adapting to circumstances, students find ways to connect through Zoom

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Berk Oto

A copy of the first day schedule included multiple assemblies explaining how the academic year would work.

Caroline Hohner, Reporter

Every returning U-High student can recall passing rows of maroon lockers on their first day of high school, wondering who their friends will be and if their teachers really are as strict as the myths claim. Yet, like most things in life at the moment, the return to school has been completely reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic. This year, no new ninth graders wandered the halls on Sept. 8, nor did anyone else for that matter. Those chattering crowds usually seen on the first day of school instead logged onto Zoom from their homes. 

As the first days of the 2020-21 school year played out online, U-High students adjusted to a new schedule and welcomed a return to interacting with peers daily.

According to senior Roma Bhattacharjee, the line between summer and the start of school was less defined. She transitioned from staying home and keeping in touch via Zoom into, well, the exact same.

“You’re not getting out of your house and going to school anymore, you’re just sitting in your room, having your materials next to you,” Roma said. “It did feel different, but I think as the work starts to ramp up it’ll start to feel more like school.”

During the first week, students acquainted themselves with U-High’s new block schedule, where each class meets synchronously only twice a week for hour-long meetings. Sophomore Lauren Tapper logged onto her first day of classes unsure about what to expect from the new schedule, but found herself appreciating the slower pace. 

“I was surprised because the block schedule actually ended up being pretty great. You had some time to relax and prepare yourself for the next class,” Lauren said.

A more relaxed schedule has eased the transition back into school, but junior Brent Pennington raised concerns about its effects on academics in the long term. 

“From a broader standpoint, it definitely gives us far less time to learn about subjects, and as a result, long term, it will definitely be a hindrance to education and that can’t be avoided,” Brent said.

A return to academic life at U-High also meant the chance for students to reconnect with a wider circle of friends.

“I got to reach out to a lot of people who I haven’t talked to because they’re in my class,” Lauren said. “It was nice to get out of my ‘close friends’ bubble and talk to some people who I haven’t seen the whole summer.”

While last year’s classes had the chance to bond in-person, this year, they must do so online. To foster a sense of community within their classes and advisories, teachers set aside plenty of time for icebreakers and introductions in the first few days of school, especially for incoming ninth graders.

We just talked about our summers and what we are looking forward to this year, but it helped, it gave us a little bit of social time which we don’t really get online”

— Sohail Sajdeh

“We just talked about our summers and what we are looking forward to this year, but it helped, it gave us a little bit of social time which we don’t really get online,” ninth grader Sohail Sajdeh said.

Still, the online classroom leaves little room for spontaneous and sporadic conversation, from conversations outside the classroom door before class to snarky jokes whispered to a classmate. The 2020-21 school year offers class group chats instead.

“There are a few classes that I’m in that have a lot of juniors that I don’t know very well, but other juniors, they’ve created big group chats, and we’ve been texting there,” Roma said. “It might be tougher for new students, but if people continue to make these study group chats it would help.”

After a long first day of classes, students socialized at grade-level game nights organized by Student Council. Attendees bonded over pop culture Kahoots and wacky games of online Pictionary free from the formality of online classes.

As Junior Class president, Brent was surprised to see a more varied group of students attend the junior grade night on Tuesday. 

“People stuck their heads out to try and see what was happening [during] the first grade event, and that made me very happy.”

 Ultimately, students are resigned to the unavoidable downsides of remote learning.

“There’s so many bigger things happening, that I feel like missing a year of high school, or most of a year of high school, isn’t really that big of a deal,” Roma said, “but, selfishly, it’s sad that I might not get to experience the fun parts of senior year.” 

At the end of each day, students no longer linger in the halls after school, complaining about hours of homework to their friends or making plans to buy bubble tea. Instead, students might trade stories on Snapchat about crazy Zoom mix-ups or Facetime just to catch up after a long day. While U-High looks different, students continue to make the best out of a difficult situation.