Last Thursday, Staples High School returned to full, in-person learning for the first time in over a year.
Though around 20% of the approximately 1,900 or so students have opted to remain full-time distance learners, the halls once again seem crowded. The classrooms, library and cafeteria pulse once more with energy.
Brian Fullenbaum is a Staples junior. He plays varsity squash, and is involved with both the Service League of Boys and the LINK Crew mentorship program with freshmen. He writes:
This is a landmark for the community. My friends and I didn’t see this
coming, because we just switched to 75% capacity a few weeks ago.
Although I would rather be home some of the days to grab the extra 45 minutes of sleep, quarantining has forced me to understand that it is actually easier to learn when attending school in person.
I woke up as slow as ever last Thursday, but I was excited to see people I haven’t
seen in months.
When I pulled into the Wakeman parking lot, I was stunned by the number of cars. The traffic jam was similar to the times my brother navigated us through the parking lots each morning more than a year ago.
I think all of the students were anxious to experience school at full capacity. The second I walked into Staples, it was odd to see so many masked, covered faces in one enclosed place.
But there was a sense of warmth and nostalgia. Almost every seat was filled. I thought back to my freshman days, when I was eager to be called on and itched to be a part of a class conversation.
Students could now walk both ways in the hallways, instead of having to follow one-way arrows around the school. It was lonely with the arrows, since all I could see was the backs of heads staring at me.
I wasn’t sure if I would even know how to react to my friends walking towards me on the other side of the hallway, but I was psyched to see them. I was finally giving smiles (under my mask) and head nods as they walked towards me.
Weeks ago, I had classes where I was the only kid in the classroom and everybody else was online. Now the entire setup was flipped. Sitting back down in a full classroom of juniors felt more studious. Students were working with each other on assignments, creating a more interactive learning environment.
My teacher forgot to tell the one Zoom student that the class was going for a mask break outside, which I am sure left that student in confusion as he stared into a silent camera for 10 minutes.
But for the most part, teachers are doing a great job adjusting back to full capacity.
The cafeteria felt more crowded than it did pre-COVID. Usually students eat outside, but because it rained the day before and those seats were wet, everyone huddled around each other in the cafeteria.
I felt for the teachers as I watched them constantly break up groups of students and tell them to “please socially distance.”
The packed lines reminded me of the time I raced my friends from the 3rd floor all the way over to the sandwich line. Although I didn’t race anyone this time, I finally experienced that sense of urgency, as I rushed to the lunch lines.
One might describe the total capacity lunch as a socially distanced nightmare, but as the excitement of returning to school and seeing friends diminishes, I am sure things will settle down.
Opening up to full capacity was a huge change in the way of life at school. I will need to figure out how to get more sleep.
But I think that Staples is making the best of what they have. I am happy to be back full time.