Huskies exhibit a range of emotions as they return to the building

After months and months of craning your eyes in front of a computer screen, constantly adjusting your chromebook camera, and restless fidgeting while waiting for your WIFi to reload, Portage Northern High School finally moves towards change with the implementation of Face2Face learning. This is a type of “back to school” that we are experiencing for the first time…. but it is not quite what everyone expected. There are hardly any elements of a typical classroom environment, and everyone is still stuck with Google Meet. However, this is a change that countless students have been looking forward to for what feels like forever. 

An awkward and unpredictable transition

Teachers have tried to make this transition for the students as easy and as comfortable as possible for everyone. “Coming back to school wasn’t awkward, there weren’t enough people attending to make it awkward,” sophomore Mason Moran explained. 

Many students have felt the same way, but others have found it challenging to get used to this new normal. “It was kinda weird at first and lowkey still is. It feels weird not having that many students back and having teachers talk to computers,” freshman Avalin Tooley stated. 

Teachers are also experiencing a wide range of emotions throughout the transition. Social studies teacher Greathen Derenne explained that living in a high risk household has made this type of transition much harder. “The transition has been challenging for me. I live in a high risk household, so the doctor has advised me to not meet with students face to face until members of my family have been immunized,” Derenne said.  Not being able to have students in class has not changed how some teachers do their work, but Derenned explained it was a hard decision to make. “It was hard to decide to stay virtual and  know that my students would be coming back to the building but I wouldn’t be able to interact with them or have them in my room. My teaching style has not changed since all of my students are still virtual with me.”

On top of all the fear of spreading COVID-19, teachers felt overwhelmed not having time to set up their classrooms or figure out how to teach not just virtual students but face to face students all at the same time.  “For me, this has been awful,” shared English teacher Sarah Miller. “My classroom is not set up nor do I have the right equipment for virtual teaching let alone both face to face and virtual at the same time.” 

Benefits and disadvantages of face to face 

There are many advantages and disadvantages of going back to in person school. Aside from increasing student and teacher contact circles, teachers are now doing two jobs: teaching in person and virtual learners at the same time. “I always feel like I’m on the verge of forgetting one group or another,” art teacher Sarah Nott shared. This reality is made even more difficult by the building’s wifi network, which can’t support in-person learners being in the Google meet with their virtual classmates without glitching or timing out completely. 

Ben Neal

Along with disadvantages, there are also some advantages. Some students have been wanting to go back to school for a long time, whether it was for the social aspect they were longing for or more contact time with their teacher. Now that there are students who are in person, they’re able to see their other peers in the building and have less distractions in school than they would at home. They are also able to interact with the school’s social emotional support dog, Hobbs.

Some students are even more motivated now that they’ve returned to the classroom. “I think being in the school settings helps with that a lot because at home I waited until last minute to do all my work,” freshman Jaiden Jankord-Maze said. Others are benefitting from the in person learning. “I’ve learned so much more than what I learned online. My grades are way better than before my transition to in person,” said sophomore Sophia Tafoya.

Moving Forward

Whether students and staff like it or not, everyone is going to have to hit their stride because this is the next step in the district’s Covid response plan. There is a bright side: students have learned to not take school for granted. “In previous years, there would be days that I would take going to school for granted. However, because of the pandemic I have cherished every day of Face2Face learning since I have been able to return,” said senior Lydia Miller. “The social interactions with other students and teachers is something that I missed greatly and love about every day now.” 

Teachers have also learned new skills that they can apply next year and beyond.  Like with everything these last two years have brought us, we as teachers are learning and adapting,” said business and marketing teacher Jeanine Patterson. There will be bumps in the road but we are here for the students whether it be in person or virtual.”

Coming back in person is especially important to the freshman class, who neither ended middle nor started high school in a physical building. “Definitely the best feeling of going back in person is the hope to come, this gives us hope that in the near future we can all come back and get back to the reality we once had before,” freshman Kiera Sims said. “I hope we all can stay optimistic and open minded during this time because we never know when it can be taken away.”