Returning to school is a reckoning for students and educators, Shallenberger says

High schoolers are going back to the classroom for their fourth quarter, just over a year after they were released March 13, 2020.

It is a remarkable milestone, for sure, but it won't be the romantic, emotional return we expected at the beginning of the pandemic. While it seems like society has come to a halt in the past year, our individual and collective changes have only accelerated. We are not the same as we were last March. So, in many ways, this long-awaited reunion will be bittersweet.COURTESY PHOTO: SARA SHALLENBERGER - SARA SHALLENBERGER

The most obvious way our high schools have changed will be seen in the classroom. My teachers have done their best to dispel us of any ideas of normalcy. Our 6-foot bubbles will not cross. My friends and I will not push our desks together for group work. We will file in and out of the school efficiently; no waiting around for our friends to leave their club meeting, no lunch on the benches in the hallway. In many ways, the level of interaction will be the same as in online school.

We also will see a school atmosphere tinged with doubt. Is going back to school right? Is it equitable to the many students who can't return due to health concerns? Are we making it easier and more acceptable for students to hold large gatherings outside of school?

After all, the return of sports in the last few weeks was accompanied by a social gathering attended by a number of players, resulting in numerous cases of COVID-19 and the cancellation of a number of Lake Oswego High School sports.

We will have to tackle questions like these as we return to the classroom. I am confident that administrators will make the right decisions. The last year has shown the school district's remarkable determination and capability. But no amount of caution or communication can completely quell the fear and doubt of students and their families.

Most importantly, however, our return will be weighted with the toll of the coronavirus. The virus has taken an irreplaceable year of life from everyone.

With the return of school will come a reckoning of sorts, the moment when reality sets in and we realize just how much has been lost. For some of us, it's easy to celebrate this return to normalcy. However, it's important to remember that for others, the restoration of a routine will only serve to highlight the parts missing from it.

Don't get me wrong — I am excited to go back to school. I am excited for raising your hand to mean an actual hand and not a button on Zoom. I am excited to see my new teachers in person for the first time, and reconnect with old ones. I am excited for the return of sports and the arts. I am excited to finish up senior year with my friends.

But I want to clear up any misconceptions about what a return to school means. It does not mean the pandemic is over. It does not mean that we can disregard all of the guidelines and rules put in place for our safety. It does not mean we forget about the last year and go on with our lives as if nothing happened.

If anything, in-person school will be a reminder of everything that's changed. In many ways, going back to school will be just as difficult as leaving it was a year ago, but I think if we can acknowledge and face the challenges presented by this return, we have a good chance at making this last quarter an unforgettable one.

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