Like the rest of the world, most students at Orcas Island High School have a vivid memory of the first day that the coronavirus began to actually interfere with everyday life. It was March 13th, 2020, between 5th and 6th period, and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee had just announced that K-12 public schools would be closed through April 24th. If you were a student at OIHS, this was the announcement that had been speculated about endlessly, as the will they, won’t they school closure debate consistently filled up discussions in classrooms and at lunch tables in the days leading up to the 13th.
Remembering the moments after Inslee’s announcement, senior Anwyn Thompson said, “[There were] so many students in the hallways like hugging each other and being excited to not go back to school.” Sophomore Nisha Woolworth had a similar memory: “I remember being excited. It was kind of a crazy day. Everyone was running around the halls like, ‘Oh my god did you hear that we are not going back to school?’ And I remember being excited to have a couple weeks break, but, knowing it would probably be more, I [decided to] clean my gym locker out.”
After the initial gym locker cleaning and excitement at having weeks of nothing to do, many OIHS students started to realize that eventually doing nothing gets boring. Junior Cailin Tucker recalled the phenomenon, and said “At that point, I think people were like, ‘I will have so much gaming time or whatever.’ And then they ended up regretting saying that because it gets boring after a while. Yeah, everyone was looking forward to something they would get to do more often at home, but then after a while, their enthusiasm waned and they were like, this sucks.”
The isolation caused by the pandemic resulted in reflection and personal growth for many, an experience that OIHS students have varying reports on. Senior Sofia Fleming, for example, definitely noticed some personal growth. “I have spent a lot of time reflecting on how I want my relationships with others to feel to them and how I can communicate with others in a positive way,” said Fleming. Junior Willow White learned not to take things for granted and senior Bethany Sanders learned a lot of new things about herself as well. In response to being questioned about his growth during the pandemic, senior Thian Armenia said: “I think my height topped out at six one and a half. No, but really I think I am better at being alone with myself and more understanding of where I am coming from on things. I am more intelligent, I would say.” Sophomore Hunter Knapp, similarly to Armenia, would also like to alert everyone that he experienced “A good solid few inches” of growth during the pandemic, a statement that many other OIHS students can relate to.
Once everyone realized that the pandemic was here to stay, online learning was implemented at OIHS, and attending school through a computer screen became a normal phenomenon to students. Despite the very best efforts from teachers and staff, students’ personal experiences with online learning were mixed, to say the least. “I got through it,” “Not great. I mean it’s okay,” and “It was awful,” were a couple of short-take responses from students. Thompson stated that her online schooling days often consisted of “Turning on a class and then rolling back into bed and then setting an alarm for around the time people would be saying goodbye.” Armenia also reported similar issues. “I have skipped more class than I have ever skipped in my life by falling asleep,” said Armenia. Sanders reported that, in her personal experience, it was harder to focus during class. “It was easier to get distracted. Like I could pick up my phone and nobody would notice. A lot of temptations,” said Sanders.
Around a year after students were yelling in the hallways in excitement over their couple weeks out of school, OIHS students returned to a hybrid schedule. This hybrid schedule, which students are currently in now, consists of two days of in-person learning and two days of online learning. Seniors and juniors come in on Mondays and Tuesdays and freshmen and sophomores come in on Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesdays left open for students to meet with teachers and catch up on work. On the return to in-person learning, Thompson shared a sentiment held by many students. “It’s nice to get back to a resemblance of normal,” said Thompson. Woolworth also felt like the return to in-person learning has been largely positive. When interviewed on this, she said “I have enjoyed being around students again and my class because I don’t see them on the Google Meet very often . And an in-person setting has definitely been good for my mental health, being around people and having real conversations.” Fleming also shared that she has been enjoying in-person classes as she has also really missed people. As she said, “The only thing that could make it better is hugs.”
As we continue to inch towards normalcy, it has become clearer that the pandemic has, and will continue to have, an effect on the way that students will look back on their high school years. Remarking on this phenomenon, Armenia said: “I think it will be interesting to look back on a high school senior year without a prom or a homecoming. A lot of traditional senior events have been disrupted so that’s what I think I will remember most, those missed opportunities.” When reflecting on how she will remember her time at OIHS under the cloud of the pandemic, Fleming said, “I think I will look at it as a year hiatus from high school.” Sanders thinks that she will have many more memories of being at home and White has the positive outlook of seeing the pandemic as something that made her high school experience more interesting and a better story. Woolworth also views the coronavirus in a similar light as White and thoughtfully said: “It will definitely be an interesting story to tell my kids and grandkids that I lived through a pandemic. Yeah, I don’t think I will reflect on it positively or negatively, it’s just the experience that I went through.”