Like so many other students across the nation and the world, this fall marks my entrance into college. Unfortunately, this transition will not include the pomp and grandeur of orientations past.
Instead, I will be in my living room, likely only half paying attention to my dean’s prerecorded welcoming remarks through a Zoom call. As much as I wish this weren’t the case — as much as I have longed for the opportunity to walk on a campus I have yet to see in person, while away hours in a library and shake my professors’ hands — it is with bittersweet happiness that I begin this online semester.
At every level, academia is facing an existential crisis amid the ongoing health pandemic, and many core components of how education is delivered have become deadly ventures. My heart goes out to the students, staff and faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill and at the University of Notre Dame, both of which experienced localized spikes of COVID-19 caused by the return to campus and had to subsequently cease all in-person functionality.
Still, I believe that if college students play it safe and smart, we are poised to be the students with the most opportunity to recoup this year.
For elementary schools and high schools, the first issue with reopening is perhaps overcrowding. Classes have always been cramped — an issue that students and teachers alike have protested ad nauseam. What once translated to a poor academic environment has now given rise to a dangerous superspreader event. Small classrooms, large classes, one teacher — who likely will have to quarantine every time one of the students does, creating a logistical nightmare for substitutes and students alike — all together makes a recipe for disaster and disease, not just inconvenience.
It would be irresponsible to forget the struggles faced by kindergarten and preschool students. At the core of these institutions is social education — how to interact with each other, how to play, how to work in groups. This type of learning is nonexistent online.
I understand that the home environment is truly unsuitable for education for some families. Children everywhere are the sons and daughters of essential workers, and with the economy in shambles, many families cannot pass up the opportunity to get back to work. Many parents will not be able to stay home and help their kids navigate the likes of Google Classroom and Open Access every day. It is an unfair reality that these children could easily fall behind their peers due to no fault of their own. In this way, there’s really no one-size-fits-all solution.
I have had the honor to serve as a student board member for Santa Fe Public Schools, as well as a member of the Student Advisory Committee for reopening at Johns Hopkins University. The core message I have brought to both groups has been that as long as things are the way they are now, we need to be honest with ourselves that returning to in-person operations of any sort will cause students, teachers, staff — and all of their families — to get sick.
Protecting our community must be our utmost concern. As a new academic year dawns upon us, in respect for the health of one another, let us prioritize those who truly need to be on campus while the rest of us take a step back. Let us work together to ensure everyone has the chance to learn and excel in school as best as they can given the current situation.