When asking my teachers and peers what their expectations for classrooms to be like in the fall, I received unique answers from each of them, but all with the same connecting idea: a sense of normality.
As all schools in New Mexico started off the 2021-22 school year with high hopes of having a complete year, many of us wonder: What is our new normal going to look like in schools? As we contemplate this idea, most students seem to be hopeful for a positive experience for their new school year.
Noelani van Loon, a junior at the New Mexico School for the Arts, explained she “hopes that school looks similar to how it looks now” for the continuation of the year — meaning, she looks forward to more in-person classes and extracurricular activities like student council and club meetings.
Van Loon’s expectations seem to be shared by various school administrations in New Mexico.
Academy for Technology and the Classics Principal Jason Morgan says the school is taking self-enforced action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by requiring students and staff to wear face coverings, undergo coronavirus screenings by getting their temperature taken, as well as other safety measures.
“Teachers will continue to build their courses in an online format because we also know that families will need to take extra precautions and likely keep students home each and every time any COVID-like symptoms occur,” he said. “And this way, students can continue to have their class materials and assignments accessible outside of school hours.”
These protocols are similar at many schools and exist not only to protect students and staff from the virus, but to help people feel at ease with in-person learning. As the pandemic continues, many administrations are doing their best to avoid the worst-case scenario: having to shut down school once again and return to virtual classrooms.
This act of constantly preparing for an uncertain future instead of putting it aside has now become part of our normal life. Events seem to have no true set date; everything is subject to cancellation or at risk of being rescheduled. Teachers and students alike have to adjust to this unsettling reality as even one of the most basic events — a full school day — can be changed at any moment due to the pandemic.
But another idea shared among students: cautious optimism.
Many New Mexicans have been waiting to see one another as we can again gather in person, yet the continuation of the pandemic is not yet allowing this to fully happen. This desire to be present in our communities is heightened among high school students across the state.
Gloria Serrono, a junior from St. Michael’s High School, explained in an email she is looking forward to that sense of togetherness students missed out on with virtual learning, but tries to remain realistic that things may change as the school year unfolds.
“[I am] thankful for the vaccine, as now New Mexico schools are starting to get back to normal and [I am] optimistic that schools aren’t going to move backward as everyone is together once again. … This being said, we should still be cautious of new developments in COVID, like the Delta Variant.”
This desire to remain united with peers was echoed by Van Loon, who wants “everyone to carry on being in person, together and healthy.” Meanwhile, she said her optimistic expectations for the future school year are balanced by the realization that there are many moving pieces left for students to juggle.
“This coming school year will be kind of hectic, since junior year is pretty intense, even without the troubles of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
Not only were these sentiments felt among high school students, but it was also expressed by ATC’s Morgan.
He said his experience as an administrator throughout the pandemic has “really emphasized the fact that a successful and healthy school community is really a shared responsibility in which every member of the campus plays a role.”
Morgan said he believes there must be a joint effort with students, faculty and staff every day until the last bell before summer break to overcome the obstacles created by the pandemic.
To have a successful year of in-person learning while continuing to weather these challenges, Morgan believes New Mexico schools need to come together as a whole and consider the perspective of critical players in the community: their students.
“[Schools should recognize] how much students have to offer with their insights and energy into creating a successful school year, and the crucial weight that their perspective holds,” he said.