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An insider’s look at how balancing COVID-19 safety protocols and affording teens a safe space to interact and bond has made this challenging year less daunting.
As the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases continues to rise, schools around the country begin to question the pros and cons of in-person hybrid schooling versus online-only education. To address these issues, my school devised protocol emphasizing the use of face masks and shortened, in-person school days. The school also forbids any physical contact, including high-fives and hugs. Any violation results in the student being restricted to remote learning for a specified period of time.
I feel safe at school. Since the start of school in September, I have not seen anyone without a face mask. There have only been 5 cases of COVID-19 among the 500 students, and those cases did not result in further infections in other students, demonstrating the rules’ effectiveness.
We only have 4 hours of in-person learning per day. Yet, my school extended advisory and club meeting times from 20 minutes to an hour. This extra time has afforded opportunities for underclassmen like myself to seek advice from upperclassmen.
Advisory groups allow students in different grade levels to connect and share on a meaningful level. During the election, we discussed civil discourse in response to the presidential debates. We discussed the process of truly listening to each other, instead of forming an argument while the other talks.
Listening and sharing became common themes this school year. For example, the Black Student Union created an educational Instagram account. In addition, the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance club suggested ways to support our peers on Coming Out Day. Another 18 student-led clubs provided opportunities for students of all grade levels to interact. Some clubs shared service opportunities or means to take much-needed mental health breaks, like the Walking Club. This year the emphasis on building community has increased club involvement, which has helped so many of us. The clubs follow the school’s COVID-19 guidelines while strengthening our school community.
The strict safety regimen and efforts to bring the student body together have made this year less daunting. Although these guidelines physically separate us, being at school with friends and teachers unites our community. I believe schools mirror the society we live in. Let us work to protect and bring together the people in our own communities during the pandemic to truly improve our well-being.
Ms Goldstein is from Evanston, IL. She is 15 years old and has contributed several reflective pieces as a young adult for the Coronavirus Chronicles series.