New U-High students forced to meet their peers on Zoom


Amon Gray

Ninth grader Amy Ji has joined four clubs to meet peers, but finds it difficult to socialize as most students already know each other well.

Anathea Carrigan, Assistant Editor

Most days after school, junior Sid Shah heads from his apartment in the city to tennis practice in Hinsdale after a long day of Zoom calls. All alone, loud thwacks of the racket hitting bright green ball after ball echo through the gym. He’s anticipating high fiving his new teammates after a match, anxiously waiting to hear anything other than the awkward silence that currently fills his days on Zoom. Sid plays for fun, but he is also trying to stay in shape for the school season supposed to start in the spring. 

Sid moved from a small town in North Carolina to Chicago this fall, and has had to adjust to a new city and a new school at the same time. With limited connections in Chicago outside the school environment, getting to know his classmates and teachers is critical for Sid. Because of distance learning, maintaining social connections is already much harder this year. 

Sid Shah is new to U-High this academic year. He joined the junior class of 2022.

However, new students at Lab don’t just have to maintain connections, they have to make connections — and through a screen. 

Because of a spike in COVID-19 cases, Lab canceled an in-person event planned for new students and their peer mentors. Without these planned in-person events, it is entirely up to the new students to try and make connections with their fellow students.

Sid hopes that joining the tennis team in the spring will help him in getting to know his classmates in another setting. 

“I mainly meet people through class, but it’s hard to really get to know people over Zoom,” Sid said. “I met one guy from the team already, and I’m excited to meet more people. It’ll be a great way to make some in-person connections.” 

Like Sid, new junior Noa Longman turned to sports with the hopes of meeting a few people, playing on the girls tennis team in the fall. 

I don’t play tennis. I joined the team with the hope that I could meet some new people and I did, but I don’t think I’ll stick with it”

— Noa Longman

“I don’t play tennis. I joined the team with the hope that I could meet some new people and I did, but I don’t think I’ll stick with it,” Noa said.

Practicing for the tennis season is just one part of Sid’s daily routine, which starts with 8 a.m. class followed by advisory and then more classes. Most times, his classes are silent, making it hard to form connections with his fellow classmates and teachers. 

However, in small breakout rooms, it’s a little bit easier to talk to people.

“Online classes have definitely gotten a lot better since the beginning of the year. Breakout rooms are much less awkward,” Sid said. “But online, it’s much more difficult to get to know people. It’s really tough to get in touch with people outside of classes.”

Amy Ji, a ninth grader who is new to Lab, has found clubs to be a lower pressure environment where she can collaborate with more students, joining the Launch Club, the economics club, the Red Cross Club and the Hellenic Club. 

Amy Ji, a ninth-grader who is new to Lab, has found clubs to be a lower pressure environment where she can collaborate with more students.

However, Amy finds it challenging to participate in the more socially oriented aspects of these clubs. 

“It gets a little tough because you have to stay on topic and then there are other people socializing,” Amy said. “It’s hard to join in the conversation because I can’t really relate to anybody.”

Meeting with people in-person presents a unique challenge to Amy because she lives in north suburban Wilmette, more than 25 miles from U-High.

“A lot of people live right by the school, so it’s hard for me to find a time to meet up somewhere that’s very far away for me,” she said. “It takes a lot of planning on my part.”

These new students find it hard to meet people beyond surface-level hellos, and difficult to make connections not only with their classmates but also with their teachers. While social media is usually an effective way to make connections with new people her own age, it’s difficult to really get to know a teacher online. 

“You really have to communicate with them. It’s kind of on you,” Noa said. “You have to interact on Zoom calls and email them after class. It’s not like in-person where you could just stop by their classroom and ask questions.”

Amy finds that her reality for attending Lab online is a lot different than her expectations. 

“Classes have been a lot easier than I thought they would be,” she said. “It’s definitely a lot more challenging to navigate the social part of school.”