As the first week of school comes to an end, I decided to interview a handful of MHS seniors anonymously about their experiences with starting their last year of school from home.

I’ll start with my own thoughts. I’ve been conflicted about school for a while now. For me, there are benefits to both routines. At home, I don’t have to carry around a 30-pound backpack all day, make sure I get to my next class on time, or frantically pack my lunch before rushing to school. I love having an extra hour of sleep in the morning, and I definitely feel more awake during my classes. Right now, the screen time doesn’t really bother me, but that may change in the next few weeks.

On the other hand, I truly miss the classroom setting. Learning from a computer with printed out notes just isn’t the same as being taught in person, or having natural discussions with my classmates and teachers. I’m a student that likes to get to know my teachers. It makes the year more enjoyable! I also wish I was still able to eat lunch with my friends in Mrs. Manis and Ms. Falco’s room or to get some work done in Ms. Cain’s.

I really didn’t predict my last year at MHS starting like this. As childish as it is, I was looking forward to Senior Privilege, using my parking spot, and the special ‘senior treatment’ from others. Right now, this doesn’t feel like my senior year of high school. Sadly, this just feels like the start of any other school year.

Here’s what some of my classmates had to say:

School, in general

“I’ve had a bad week.”

“I feel less tired and more ready to take notes than I would in a regular classroom. I feel like I can participate more, and I just generally feel more comfortable in my seat.”

“As of now, it feels pretty normal.”

“Fitness is brutal, and I can’t walk but it’s also very funny to watch because in burpees everyone looks like rabbits on the screen.”

“The first few days the classes have been mostly fine for me, but I realize I’m in a lucky situation where I have a good internet connection and I don’t have to share a room with people. Some classes like Chinese or other languages where you really need to listen closely to what is being said can be tough […]. I do miss my classmates and trying to connect with my teachers, I feel like that’s the biggest thing lost due to online learning. But if there is one thing I’m happy about, it is the fact that I can get an extra hour of sleep and feel well rested before class.”

“I was probably one of the only people who loved distance learning in the spring. I was sleeping more, reading more, baking more. Overall, I was happier to have the time to focus on myself–something I found difficult to do when I was at school for 7 hours a day.”

“I still love being at home and manage to get what work we’ve been assigned done faster. […] Being at home is not a hindrance: it’s an opportunity to recharge and focus on our mental health needs.”

“Lunch is too short to make and eat. I don’t understand why lunch can’t be just as long as it was before. The virtual schedule doesn’t have enough breaks, and the ones that it does have, aren’t long enough.”

“Starting online is definitely weird. I had no idea what to expect, especially because in the spring everything was very much up in the air. But on the first day of classes, I found myself laughing along with my classmates when teachers made jokes and texting with friends in between classes like we were walking in the hallways. I think it’s all about adjustment, and it’s not an easy adjustment. I’ve tried to keep an open mind and be optimistic, and make the best of a new, different situation.”

“Online school this year is a lot more rigorous – daily meetings and virtual class lectures mean it’s easier to learn, less like the self-studying we had to do last year.”

“Starting the school year online definitely felt a little strange. I never would have imagined that my first day of senior year would be through a screen.”

“Chromebook issues are the most frustrating thing to have to deal with. Why do I have to use this outdated technology (and why am I required to pay for it…) when my personal laptop is upwards of $1,000 and actually works for me? The issues are endless: they’re slow, the automatic settings don’t allow access to many of the sites that teachers require us to go on/sign in to, Google Meets is laggy, glitchy, and often a distraction. If we really want to prioritize student learning, why are we requiring technology that hurts students more than it helps?”

“I have high hopes that eventually we will return to an atmosphere where we will be allowed to celebrate the seniors in a way that is safe and respectful to everyone in our community. While this is not the senior year I ever would’ve imagined I am staying positive and patient so when all is said and done this year will be a happy and memorable one. After completing the first weeks of school I am excited for the rest of the school year as seniors should get their final athletic seasons in and have the opportunity to be leaders in different areas of the school.”

“If we ignore what “normal” used to be and embrace the abnormalities of our senior year, I full heartedly believe that we can have an amazing time during events such as BOTC in the spring during our second semester. I trust the hard work and dedication of our administration, parents, teachers, and students who all share a goal to make each day a great day.”

Teachers

“I’m having a lot of trouble with online learning because my internet is really unstable and won’t always connect to my chromebook, and some of my teachers aren’t that understanding when it comes to not being able to use my chromebook.”

“All of my teachers are being super helpful and forgiving for online schooling. They have all found really creative ways to deal with online schooling and I feel so grateful for their hard work. However, it’s been a lot more stressful to take tests this year so far because I’m worried about my chromebook crashing or disconnecting from my wifi.”

“I am so thankful for Millburn teachers’ dedication. It’s so easy to see how difficult virtually teaching is, and whatever students are going through, most teachers are likely going through worse.”

“All of my teachers have made such an amazing effort to tech students and they’ve taken so much time to learn new programs and find new ways to teach.”

“Not meeting my teachers or classmates in person was challenging, but I think everyone is slowly adjusting to this new way of learning. My teachers have been great with providing all types of resources and information on how we can succeed in their (virtual) class.”

“Teachers have come back far more equipped to handle virtual learning than last year, with chrome extensions, websites, etc, which all make learning more simple.”

Sports

“Varsity athletes need to have exemption.”

“The modified sports schedule [is difficult] since many of the plans for high school sports are last minute.”

“I can transition into the school year easily from the summer with fall sports. However this year the fall sports has started later and will be cut short. Over the summer it has been a little frustrating not being able to see too many of my teammates to practice and prepare for the season. While I am incredibly happy that we still have an opportunity to play this fall, I am still a little disappointed that it won’t be a normal season for my senior year. I was really looking forward to going to school in our uniforms, dressing up for game days, and hanging out in the locker room.”

“I am very grateful to still have a sports season. After staring a screen for six hours, it feels great to go outside for practice and see my teammates (from a safe distance). With the school year being so different, even if it’s a little bit shorter, definitely provides some sense of normalcy.”

“With this being my senior year, I really have to play every game like it’s my last, because I never know what will happen.”

Not Feeling Like a Senior

“It would be beneficial to give the seniors a longer lunch seeing as that was the tradition in the past. We have gotten zero celebratory traditions so far, and giving us the hour for lunch is the least the administration could do.”

“On the first day of school, I felt pretty lonely. I miss talking to friends and teachers in the hallways and right before class. […] Strangely, I don’t feel like a senior; maybe it’s because we don’t have any of the usual senior festivities.”

“The little bit of prestige we get from being seniors has been robbed from us.”

“This was supposed be the year of senior privilege, but we do not get to experience parking spaces and driving to chipotle for lunch. Hopefully for the second semester there will be an opportunity to go into the school. I hope to try and make this senior year as excited and normal as possible, so we don’t miss out on any memories that could have been made.”

“Virtual school has been fine. I think as a senior it’s a little disappointing with almost no recognition.”

“The beginning of the school year as a senior has left me with a lot of mixed emotions. On one hand I am so excited that my classmates and I get to finally be seniors and experience this important time of our lives. On the other hand I am disappointed that I cannot see my peers everyday and get the “usual” senior festivities.”

College Applications

“I’m confused. I feel like I’d be better informed if I talk in person to the guidance counselor, and them sending us documents just feels like an assignment rather than something life-changing [and] important. […] I’d rather they make videos where they speak to the camera so I’m not reading through a doc 10 times and keep losing interest.”

“As a senior, I do think that we have more free time than we would have with a physical school year, which is ideal for college apps and extracurriculars.”

“I have taken this time during virtual learning to really focus on my classes, work on my college applications, and set up programs throughout the high school to prepare myself and the class for a successful year.”

Screen Time

“The worst part about online learning is the screen time. I’ve ended everyday with horrible headaches and it makes starting my homework (more screen time) even harder than usual.”

“The issue with online school boils down to the fact that students are forced to sit down in front of a screen for seven hours a day, at least. This leads to extreme fatigue, as well as sore and [overworked] muscles. It is not healthy for anyone, especially kids, to be sitting that long.”

“Sitting in one place for hours is draining, and I dread having to turn on my laptop to complete homework.”

“Staring a screen for 7 hours is unhealthy, and I can feel it. By the end of the day, my eyes can’t stop watering and I have a searing headache.”

“I don’t like sitting alone in my room and of course I wish I could be back in school, but it this is how it’s going to be for the unforeseeable future, then I think I’ll be okay.”

“I’ve been getting some serious eye fatigue from having to look at my computer all day long. The other day, I started getting shooting pains in my eyes and developed a huge migraine. I’ve also noticed that my vision gets blurry after long stretches of online school and it takes longer for them to relax/normalize.”

“Breaks between classes are way too short, especially since some teachers expect you to come to class as early as possible + before the bell rings. Both my parents work and only one works from home + their lunch breaks don’t match up with mine, so I have to cook for myself everyday, and lunch breaks don’t give me enough time for that. I meal prep sometimes, but I shouldn’t be expected to spend hours every week pre-making my food in order to be able to eat a filling and nutritious lunch.”

Closing remarks

It’s clear the Class of 2021 has mixed reactions about their first week of school. I always feel disoriented when I start a new school year, but hopefully, we’ll all settle into this new schooling experience and find ways to make this transition smoother in the coming weeks.

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