A Calculated Risk: High School Students Return To New Bedford Classrooms

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Maxine DeJesus, wearing an adapted mask, gets her clarinet ready at the start of band practice. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Maxine DeJesus, wearing an adapted mask, gets her clarinet ready at the start of band practice. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

High school students in New Bedford will be returning to the classroom this week for the first time since March.

Seventeen-year-old Maxine DeJesus will be one of them.

"I'm nervous because I know that they say that everyone's supposed to wear a mask, but how well is that going to be implemented, especially with a bunch of teenagers?" she said.

Maxine’s youngest brother has Down syndrome and other health issues, so she’s worried that going back into a building with a lot of people in it could expose her and her family to COVID-19.

New Bedford had been listed as high risk by state health and education officials for the last six weeks and infection rates are still rising. Going back into the classroom can feel "overwhelming" at times for her mother Carmen.

"I know that everybody's taken precautions, but it's still a big scare for me to allow anybody to go anywhere where there's a lot of people," explained Carmen.

Maxine has been attending in-person marching band practice outside the school for about the last month. So far, no one from the group has reported a COVID-19 infection, which eases her mind a little.

Still, she explained, "It's that loss of control. [Thinking ] of 'Are they keep in their mask on? Are they washing their hands? Are they touching others?'"

The other factor weighing on Maxine and her family is how they’re going to make remote learning work for her two youngest siblings. When school buildings across the state closed last spring, Maxine helped her younger brothers with their school work and made sure they stayed focused on their virtual classes.

Maxine’s mom and step-dad are essential workers. They both work at Cumberland Farms. Her step-dad works overnights.

"I had to think about [whether] I'm going to still be able to help them on my days off," said Maxine. "What's going to happen on those two days [when I'm in school]? Will my parents be able to handle it?"

Still, Maxine said she knows that going back to the classroom two days a week is the right decision for her. She's taking three Advanced Placement classes this semester and she remembered how much harder they were last spring after the school pivoted to distance learning.

"I just want the best chance for me to get this because I'm also preparing for college," she said. "It's it's weird and it's tough. I just I don't like it."

Mostly though, Maxine says she just misses being in school. She misses her friends and conversations with teachers. It’s why her mom Carmen supports Maxine’s decision.

"It's her senior year, so I just I just felt that I needed to leave that up to her," said Carmen. "I couldn't take that away from her. She's worked so hard for this year to get where she's getting. And I know she makes good decisions on her own."

But both of them know this senior year isn’t going to be like most. Depending one how COVID-19 infection rates change in New Bedford, her senior year could end up like last year's senior — without a prom or in-person graduation.

Still Maxine said she's exited to starting her first day of in-person learning. She’s focused on having a good year and continuing on her path to college.

"I do want to have a solid education," said Maxine. "And the best way to do that is if I'm in school and be interacting with my teachers."

This segment aired on October 19, 2020.

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Carrie Jung Senior Reporter, Education
Carrie is a senior education reporter.



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