2nd floot high school photo

Photo by Talia Kouncar of Richard Montgomery High School.

For many Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) juniors, the 2021-2022 school year will be the first fully in-person academic year we will experience as high school students. Our freshman year was cut short mid-year due to the rise in COVID-19 cases, leading to 1.5 years spent online (along with some hybrid incorporation last year). As a junior at Richard Montgomery, it is rather strange, yet exciting returning to an in-person learning environment. 

Last spring, I briefly engaged in the hybrid learning model for the last few weeks of school. One of my weeks was spent in-person, while the following week I would be back on Zoom. I grew accustomed to shorter increments of class time, so being back in the building full-time has been an adjustment for me and most likely many others. 

While I am glad to be back in the building and have the full experience of an IB Diploma student, it has its share of challenges. Last year, the virtual schedule was designed so students would only attend 3-4 classes a day with Wednesdays as a check-in/advisory, or a “free” day, as some students viewed it. 

This gave me plenty of time to do my assignments effectively with a low-stress timeline. The way classes were partitioned meant I would only have a few assignments with two days to complete them. This year, however, attending all seven classes a day has required its fair share of time management for me. I typically have homework in every class each day, and about 2-3 assessments a week.

 In addition to this, I am currently working on a lot of subject specific research papers for the IB Diploma and will be starting my Extended Essay: tasks that require a decent amount of time to be set aside. Being able to see each of my teachers every day has proven to be helpful and keeps me on my toes. I can go home, review the assignments, and ask any clarifying questions the following day. On the other hand, it can be an added stressor, since we may receive a new task to do in addition to the one we were given the previous day. 

Due to this, one of the biggest impacts the full return has had is in my sleep schedule. With online learning, classes would start at 9:00 a.m., and we could roll straight out of bed and log into class. Personally, I would wake up 30 minutes before the start of first period, brush my teeth, comb my hair, and go right to my computer. 

Those few hours of extra sleep were a privilege I never took for granted and greatly appreciated, especially now where it is extremely rare that I can go to bed before midnight. Now, I have to wake up at 6:25 a.m. to get ready in time to catch my bus in the morning. Although it has taken quite a bit of adjustment on my part, being back in-person has certain benefits that online learning will never be able to live up to.

One of the best aspects of in-person learning is the face-to-face interactions with my peers, and being able to see my friends again. Talking to friends through a screen over Zoom simply was not the same as getting that in-person social stimulation. Being in the building has also allowed me to reconnect with my school community. The virtual environment was a hindrance to fostering school spirit, as it prevented hosting school wide events and made club meetings much more dull. As President of Richard Montgomery’s Our Minds Matter chapter, I can say that getting to have our meetings in-person again has been absolutely amazing and has helped our members feel much more connected to one another.

Distance learning had its benefits in terms of sleep and stress reduction, but I am eager to be back in school again, and I am glad teachers recognize that it is unrealistic to expect us to go back to normal after having been online for so long. Even so, it is important to note that COVID-19 is far from over, and the recent rise in cases is not something that should be taken lightly. It is frustrating when I walk around the halls and see students without a mask, or their mask below their nose, because not only are they jeopardizing their safety and others’, they are jeopardizing the effectiveness of the safe in-person environment that staff have worked so hard to create and maintain.

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