“It’s Been a Change For Sure, but a Nice One”: Students Recount Their Experiences Being Back on Campus


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After a year of being away, many of Ukiah High School’s students have returned to the campus, slowly rediscovering the experience of learning in-person. Students once again have the opportunity to navigate classes, relationships, and their high school lives, and not from behind a computer screen. UHS News staff talked to three students as well as emotional support counselor Jacob Bainbridge to get their perspectives on returning to school and by extension, a sense of normalcy. 

Having spent so long attending school online, returning students have been forced to readjust. Alley Tafel, a junior, had this to say: “It’s been weird adjusting to in-person learning coming from online lectures, having classes at different times, and waking up later.” 

The UHS News being forced to pose for a photograph [Picture by Matt LaFever]

Alternatively, Maddy Mills, a sophomore, felt good about the change, saying, “It’s been a change for sure, but a nice one…in-person school has come back naturally as it had been in the past besides the new restrictions.” Mills later admitted that “Transportation has been an issue, with the change in bus schedules and people that used to take me to school starting work before ten-thirty.” Mills also described a homework-related issue she has faced, saying, “I was used to being able to have the extra time in the morning and the opportunity to finish assignments during class.” 

Isaac Adkins, also a sophomore, explained that it was easier to come back than it was to adapt to online classes. “I would describe my experience readjusting to in-person school a lot better than I would online school because the teachers are there to help you out and guide you through it.” 

Coming back to school has offered students a host of positive experiences, especially in regards to their social lives. Describing her favorite part about being back, Mills said, “One of the main high school experiences is having that time with your friends before you graduate and essentially start your life, so having this time again has been very fun.” 

Tafel felt the same way, explaining that “The best part of coming back to school has been seeing my teachers and friends in person.” Tafel also said, “I’ve reconnected with some old friends being back to school.” She later admitted that “I was worried at first to see some people I hadn’t seen in over a year but it’s awesome and so exciting that I get to see them again.” 

Adkins added to this, saying, “The best part about coming back to school has definitely been being able to see your friends that you haven’t seen in a while or honestly, meeting new people. That’s a big thing for me.” Adkins also explained that “I’ve reconnected with some old friends going back. It was kind of nice because it was not necessarily people that I would hang out with but it was nice to see them again.” 

Already, students have begun to make good memories from their time back in school. Mills, recounting her favorite in-person memory, explained, “The best memory that I’ve created on campus so far is going out to lunch.” Mills later added, “This was my first year being able to do so and I very much enjoyed being with my friends and running somewhere for lunch, then coming back on time to eat then go to class.” 

Adkins felt similarly, saying, “Leaving campus for lunch has been really fun.” On the other hand, Tafel felt that simply being able to sit in a real classroom and talk to people was the best part of being back. She said, “It’s nice to be able to sit in class and just be able to talk to each other again.” 

Despite the positives, leaving online learning has created its own problems for students. According to Mills, the biggest hurdle she has faced is “…in class discussions.” Mills elaborated on this, saying, “Being online for over a year, I lost the confidence I once had in-class. Now, coming back, it is much more nerve wracking to talk in front of the class.” 

Freshman Edward Anderson practicing CPR in SCRUBs [Picture taken by Rylie Barber]

Tafel offered a different perspective, saying, “The adjustment to the new schedules has been a little rough.” 

Alternatively, Adkins felt that the schoolwork was the worst issue presented by in-person learning. “I feel there is more work.” Adkins explained. He also explained that “Online was definitely easier than in-person.”

Students with extracurricular activities have been especially affected by in-person learning. Mills, a tennis player, said, “Coming back to school has made transportation to practice much easier.” Mills explained that “Before, I had to either wait for a friend to get out of school or my parents to be on their lunch break to take me to practice. Now, being on campus, I only have to change and walk over to the tennis courts.” 

Adkins, a wrestler, had this to say: “I’m in wrestling and coming back to school has definitely affected it. Now, obviously, it’s mandatory every single day and it’s official now, since we’re in season.” 

For many students, enjoying and being involved in their classes has become easier within the classroom. Mills, detailing her perspective on the matter, said, “Online classes gave me the opportunity to not be engaged, making classes harder. Starting in-person school forces me to be present and involved, which has let me enjoy class more and the assignments easier.” 

Tafel added to this, saying, “I’ve enjoyed my classes more because of in-person.” Tafel elaborated on her thoughts, saying, “I think I’m learning more than I did online. It’s having the people there with you that makes the classes more enjoyable.” 

Adkins offered his own similar take on the issue, explaining that “My enjoyment of classes has been impacted by in-person learning because I feel more connected with the class and it’s easier to ask the teacher questions and to clarify stuff.” 

Overall, the interviewed students expressed their gratitude that they could come back to experience life at a real high school again. Mills said, “I am overall happier.” She admitted that “For me, when I was alone my whole school day, it lowered my motivation to do my classes, but with being back on campus, I get the social time and outside time I need to give me a break from the screen.” 

Tafel admitted that, “There have been some instances where I like Zoom but for the most part, I like being in-person. It’s a lot easier for me to be in that learning environment where there are less distractions.” 

Adkins addressed his preference for in-person classes, saying, “I definitely prefer being back in-person over Zoom just because Zoom takes so much more of a toll…It takes more of a toll both emotionally and physically versus in-person.” Adkins later added to this, saying, “Over Zoom, I don’t concentrate as well and the teacher can’t really help you as well. Plus, in-person, you can see your friends again and do more activities.” 

Jacob Bainbridge, a social and emotional counselor at Ukiah High School, believes there to be a multitude of both pros and cons to coming back. He explained, “Studying in person has obvious advantages.” Bainbridge elaborated on this, saying, “Kinesthetic learners are those who learn best by “doing”…They can learn from videos and zoom meetings but they will not be learning as well and it won’t last as long as it would be if they had their hands on the materials.” Bainbridge added to this, saying, “These individuals will be frustrated because they simply can’t learn at the same rate or at the same quality as they would have in person learning.” 

However, Bainbridge believes that overall, students have benefitted from coming back on campus. “A big part of being a teen, developmentally, is developing your own identity apart from your parents and family. We do this by spending time with peers and friends.” Brainbridge explained that “Quarantine put a stop to this development. How can you find your own identity when you’re with your family all the time? This is one of the main reasons I’m glad we have everyone back on campus.” Brainbridge also detailed the importance of frequent social interactions for teenagers, saying, “Nonverbal communication is difficult if not impossible to pick up and decipher without in-person social interactions. So, we will misread a text, not pick up on social cues in a zoom class or detect anger or frustration in a phone call that’s not really there.” He expanded on his argument, saying, “More importantly, especially for young teens, is that they missed a valuable year of learning non-verbal communication. This could lead to more social awkwardness and social anxiety in the future.”

Bainbridge believes that there will be lasting social and emotional effects from distance-learning for teenagers. “Social anxiety is an obvious but not the only example. Some students and adults are having a hard time putting the virus and the quarantine in the past.” Elaborating on this, Bainbridge explained, “In practice this looks like still isolating, being anxious around large groups where before you were fine, and going to extreme lengths to avoid social interactions despite there being no reason to do so.” Bainbridge also said, “Most of us missed a year of social growth and emotional development.” Brainbridge went on to say that “Any anxiety or social quirk will be more pronounced as we didn’t have social contact for a year. These should become less and less overtime but be patient with each other.” 

Bainbridge is happy to have students back on campus. When asked what people should know, he said, “I’m glad everyone is back. We all have some degree of trauma from the quarantine, so supporting each other, caring for each other and listening to each other are the best ways to come back strong!” 

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