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'Everything Feels Different And New': Mass. Kids Reflect On Masked, Sanitized Return To School06:55
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It's back to school for kids all over Massachusetts — if not inside the school building, then back to the kitchen table, couch or wherever they're learning remotely in the era of the pandemic.

The majority of students will spend at least a couple of days a week inside the classroom this fall. That'll feel pretty different from years' past, with new rules meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

WBUR's All Things Considered asked some students in the area to share reflections about their first days back at school.

Saket Damle, 16, 10th grade student at Shrewsbury High School, which opened in a hybrid model on Tuesday

"It felt different, but it felt really good to be back because it's been six months. What was different about it was when I first walked in, the entire school smelled very sanitized, I guess. There was a lot of hand sanitizer around, and there were even tracks on the floor that directed in which direction you should be walking.

Saket Damle, a sophomore at Shrewsbury High School, is attending school two days per week in the hybrid option. (Photo courtesy the Damle family)
Saket Damle, a sophomore at Shrewsbury High School, is attending school two days per week in the hybrid option. (Photo courtesy the Damle family)

"We have these things called a mask breaks, where you can either drink some water or do whatever, but then you immediately have to put your mask back on ... The whole [hand sanitizing] thing, it wasn't really forced upon us, but it was highly recommended that we did it at the end of class. We also had to wash down our desks at the end of class for the next set of kids that would walk in. Classes with desks that were six feet apart felt really weird. On one hand, it makes sense that social distancing is important. But on the other, if you just wanted to talk to a friend or if you needed to help someone out, it was really awkward because there was this good amount of space in between both of you.

"Me being in theater, theater is obviously going to be much more different now because you can't stand on a stage and communicate with a ton of people close to you and have a live audience at the same time ...  I also think that with the environment of the school and all the changes, staying focused and working productively might be either difficult, or it might be easier. I can't really tell it right now ... I think that it'll get easier as time moves on, because it's not so big of a difference to where it would change the learning of the curriculum entirely. So I think we have a good future ahead of us. And yeah, I just hope we have a great year."

Jaime Thompson, 9, 4th grade student at Florida Ruffin Ridley School in Brookline, which is doing a phased reopening — with most students starting the year remotely but kids with special learning or family needs attending school in person

Jaime Thompson, 9 a fourth grader at Florida Ruffin Ridley School in Brookline. (photo courtesy the Thompson family)
Jaime Thompson, 9 a fourth grader at Florida Ruffin Ridley School in Brookline. (photo courtesy the Thompson family)

"When I first got into school, there was a lot of kids waiting outside to be called in because of social distancing. And when I got called in to come in, they gave me hand sanitizer and they just walked me to the room where I was going to be on my computer and, like, doing all the Zoom meetings and stuff. And my teacher was actually in her own classroom at the school. But all the other kids — in my class at least — were all doing online at home.

"I kind of feel like I'm with everybody in my class on Zoom. I can see my friends and stuff, but I don't really get to chat with them, just because we're kind of trying to listen to the teacher. I felt kind of nervous and excited at the same time, I think.

"For our lunch, we kind of had to eat outside and we ate in our tennis court. Everyone had to be spaced out, because no one wanted to have the coronavirus or anything ... I guess I'm kind of, like, happier that I'm kind of at school, because I don't think it's as much as, like, a temptation to get up and go sit down and watch TV or read a book. I kind of just wish stuff were kind of back to normal and just, like, school would be normal."

Jonathan Nelson, 11, 6th grader at Greater Boston Academy, a Christian school in Stoneham

Johnathan Nelson is a 6th grader at Greater Boston Academy in Stoneham. (Photo courtesy the Nelson family)
Johnathan Nelson is a 6th grader at Greater Boston Academy in Stoneham. (Photo courtesy the Nelson family)

"Learning in school during this time is hard. Everything feels different and new. It's like if you've ever seen a movie that basically takes you to a different universe — like a multiverse kind of movie — that's what it feels like. After fifth grade, I felt like I got transported into a different universe with this COVID-19 thing.

"Really, I don't know how to explain it, but it feels good to be in school with your friends, but not in a good way. The first step, as soon as you get there, they take your temperature. Then they make us wash our hands with hand sanitizer. After that, we do class. We wipe down our desks ... clean everything, actually. After that, our teacher usually lets us go outside. So we have two recesses per day without our masks, still social distancing. But nobody can really handle that. People end up getting close, even though we're outside playing. And really, some people just can't keep their masks on ... And we're kids ... it kind of feels uncomfortable.

"I just don't want to get my family sick, because I would probably get coronavirus from going to school during this pandemic. I already know three people in my family that got coronavirus, and one of them died. He was my grandmother's cousin. I never met him. But he's dead. Really, me getting sick or my family getting sick is still on my mind. I don't really think I'm ready or prepared to go to school during this pandemic. But here I am, and now I'm still going to school."

This segment aired on September 17, 2020.

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