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Amid uncertainty, new protocols, there’s laughter, new connections

Under the district’s learning plan this year, middle and high-school students learn from school two days a week, and home three days a week.

Junior Olivia Austin is editor of Northview High School’s student news site, The Roar. She is involved in National Honor Society, a student council representative, yearbook staffer and a member of Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to come to terms about how I have felt since I’ve returned to school, and frankly, I haven’t thought about it much. The topic gets brushed off with my family members, co-workers,  and friends. I didn’t want to admit how I was feeling. 

I now felt anxious, lonely and heartbroken in a place I once loved. But even with the emotions I was experiencing, the first day would still come. 

The night before school, the anxiety and uncertainty clouded my mind. I tossed and turned waiting for my brain to finally give up and shut off. A part of me didn’t want to sleep because once I woke up, I would have to face whatever the day brought me. 

But finally, the sleep took over and the morning inevitably came. 

I woke up and went through the motions like I did any morning: I ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, got dressed and did my hair and makeup.

It all felt oddly normal. 

I left the house around 8 a.m., not forgetting to grab my keys and the new staple to my wardrobe in the past few months: my mask. 

When I got to school, I remembered that I wouldn’t be seeing all of my best friends that day, due to the hybrid model splitting us up alphabetically. On the bright side, I was fortunate enough to still have two of them by my side but I still recognized the two pieces missing that completed the puzzle to our friend group. 

After meeting up in the parking lot, the three of us were ready to conquer the day ahead with as much confidence as we could muster. 

The first place I went to in the building was the main office to get my work permit signed for the job I had gotten at Tropical Smoothie over the summer. The office, which usually welcomed people inside, was now locked to the student body and you had to wait outside for what you needed. 

While waiting outside, a lost freshman came up to me and asked me how he could find his classes. I realized that he had no clue where he was going; he didn’t know the building inside and out like I did. 

I tried my best to help the boy as much as possible, but there was only so much I could do before everyone in the hallway got told to get to class. I hope he found his classes OK.

My first class of the day was government, which was taught by a long-time teacher at Northview, Ted Burba. I had expected to see his friendly face when I walked up to the doorway to his classroom, but instead, was met by a young woman. She turned out to be our long-term substitute for the year, due to Burba being higher risk, something I didn’t think about but makes sense in the world in which we are currently living.

My first two classes felt heavy. I couldn’t place why, but it could’ve been just us trying to cope and process the new changes we are experiencing. But nonetheless, it made me feel anxious. 

As I walked to my classes throughout the day, I walked by certain places that had fond memories attached: 

The place where my old locker used to be, which used to be the spot I would gather with my friends before school. This year, there are no lockers to gather at; you come in and walk straight to class.

The bathroom where my friend and I would go every day during our second hour freshman year, because we didn’t want to be in class.

The spot where I shared so many laughs and stories with my friends at lunch. 

I felt almost heartbroken walking by them, knowing that everything has changed.

Between all the reminiscing, I walked into my second class of the day where I really wasn’t particularly close with anyone. I sat at my desk that was spaced six feet apart from the others and began to worry. How was I supposed to make friends when I am seated at a distance from other people?

Was I going to be alone?

But in true Olivia fashion, I still found my ways to safely talk to the people who sat by me in class and to make friends with people I never really knew before. 

Even with that, there was still a part of my heart that felt alone, such as when I had to work on my assignments by myself, or when it was the end of class and I couldn’t get up to talk to my friend on the other side of the room.

I felt restless and trapped sitting in a chair all day, not being able to get up and move except during the five-minute break we got in class and at passing time. 

But finally it was time to go to lunch. This year there are four lunches instead of two, and three areas to eat lunch based on your second-hour class.

This was the first year I didn’t have lunch with any of my close friends, and it worried me. I was so ready to escape the emotions I was feeling all day, but none of them were there to help.

But I was able to find someone to sit by, and for the first time all day it felt like everything was normal.

The day ended on a good note, in my yearbook class where we re-organized the room and had errands around the school, which allowed me to get up and move while social distancing. I was also able to feel truly myself, and I laughed there the most I had all day.

When I got to work the following day, my co-workers asked how it went (their school district started the year online for the first few weeks). I gave them a vague answer and listened to them complain about online school and how much they wanted to go back.

I realized that I was so fortunate to even be able to go back for at least a couple days a week. To be able to get out of the house, even if it means having to wear a mask and having to take extra safety precautions.

But this isn’t only affecting me, and I acknowledge all of the students out there who have been affected by the pandemic: 

I’m sorry for the seniors who won’t get the full senior experience. 

I’m sorry for the athletes who have to make a decision on whether it’s safe or not for them to play the sport they love.

I’m sorry for those who go to school anxious, lonely and scared because of the changes we are experiencing.

We are living in so much uncertainty right now, and no matter what you feel upset or worried about — big or small — your feelings are valid. 

We are all in this together, and I promise that we will see the other side again one day.

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