A Never-Fading Light: High School in the Age of COVID-19


Photo by Allison Shelley for Ame

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages, courtesy of Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Siya Chelapurath, Staff

What is the high school experience?

For some, it means a traditional prom king and queen, home football games, hanging out with friends at In-N-Out, and studying for the SAT or your next test. For others, it is merely another phase of life to get through. Regardless of whether you enjoyed high school or not, it is not an experience you can easily forget.

When the doors to my East Bay high school opened in August and a mass of 3,300 students poured in, oddly, only one class of students had completed a full year of in-person high school learning. As seniors,  we are now referred to as the lone survivors – high school “experts.”

As a leadership student, one of the challenges I was tasked with was helping to recreate a more welcoming and cohesive environment on campus amid the pandemic. My leadership teacher, Mr. Bowen, stressed the importance of rebuilding the community at my school, and stated that “this year is possibly even more important than our school’s first year of being open.”

This meant that our class had to set the tone not only for this school year, but also set a strong example for all the new kids entering high school and returning to in-person learning after a year and a half of classes conducted over Zoom.

Following the return to school rallies, football season, and the homecoming dance and festivities, I asked freshmen and seniors about their thoughts on the 2021-22 school year so far. Maya, a senior who has been heavily involved in leadership this year, said that while there are differences from a “normal school year, one that we experienced as sophomores,” a new feeling of community has emerged through “students coming together and feeling like we are part of one school together.”

A freshman, Sayuj, shared his thoughts about returning to school in person for the first time since seventh grade. He said that while the COVID-19 protocols of wearing a mask and not eating inside buildings may be frustrating at times, it is “really cool to experience typical high school things, like football games and school rallies.”

“I didn’t think I would be able to have fun participating in these events,” Sayuj said, “but I am happy that our school was still able to accomplish them.”

The presence of student-engagement activities have also made it more possible to foster a sense of community on campus. “Are you going to tonight’s football game?” a sophomore asked one day, passing me in the quad.

While there was nothing out of the ordinary about the question, the mere mention of engaging in school activities and retrieving a sense of normalcy struck me as important somehow. It’s clear that students are finding joy being back in school, and that in itself is something to celebrate.

Last summer, our challenge of helping to revive the student body seemed like an impossible task. But, what we’ve learned is that a basic essence of high school was never lost. Youth and people’s desire for new experiences transmits the hope that together we can pull through even the hardest times.