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Student Voices: Pinewood student offers frontline view of campus return

Class Zoom meetings. Laptops and iPads. Wi-Fi problems. Studying on a bed.

Students have been learning from home since March 2020, when COVID-19 forced all schools in Santa Clara County to close and transition to online learning. After many months at home, some schools have reopened to offer in-person classes. As a student, I can say that it’s definitely been an interesting experience.

When Pinewood School in Los Altos reopened back in October, most people had mixed feelings about setting foot on campus again. I remember the exciting thoughts that ran through my head: “I can see my friends again!” “I’ll finally not be stuck at home!” But I also remember some of the worrisome thoughts: “What if someone at school gets COVID?” “Would school be a lot more different?”

Well, for starters, new rules have had to be implemented when welcoming students on campus during a pandemic. To ensure safety, everyone is required to wear masks, take their temperatures every morning and answer a questionnaire before arriving. Loads of hand sanitizer has been placed in all the classrooms, too. In addition, each grade is split into specific cohorts of fewer people to reduce contact with others. Students would get to experience a hybrid learning environment, which meant they would go to school a few days per week and attend class from home the rest of the week.

Claire Wu, a sixth-grade student who has been attending in-person hybrid school at Pinewood Middle Campus, was very enthusiastic when school first reopened.

“I am very happy about going back to school for a number of reasons,” Claire said. “First, it was difficult to socialize with friends online, even over Zoom. Second, all the screen time couldn’t have been good for the mind or the body. Third, being stuck at home was the most boring thing ever. Going back to school means an end to all these problems.”

Still, wearing a mask for hours at a time was hard to get used to.

“It is uncomfortable and annoying,” Claire added. “It acts like a sun-shield that only works part of the way.”

In the end, Claire said she thinks it’s been quite the experience doing remote learning and then starting school again: “It’s like coming back from a vacation.”

Along with the students, teachers had to get accustomed to a hybrid learning environment. They have had to modify their lesson plans to accommodate the situation of having half their students at school and the other half at home. Technology has greatly impacted our school, as we now do most of our schoolwork on iPads and laptops instead of on paper.

Tom Carter, a junior high writing and literature teacher at Pinewood School’s Upper Campus, said he has been very excited to teach his students in the classroom. But like many other teachers, he faced a few difficulties when the campus first reopened.

“It’s tough to split focus between the students at home and the students in the class, for example,” he said. “It’s also challenging to find a simple audio setup that works … but it’s possible. Thanks to the wonderful Pinewood administration, staff and students, I’m really enjoying teaching classes at school. I’ve also learned that we as a community can create a positive learning environment in the worst of times.”

For me, it’s been a bit challenging to keep on top of the changing schedules during hybrid learning. Another slight hardship during the first few months was that classrooms needed to have their windows open to increase airflow, making the classrooms feel almost like an igloo during the winter. I had to wear multiple jackets to keep warm.

Nonetheless, socializing and being around people again at school is a huge positive. School clubs and team sports have also been slowly opening up, bringing back the cheerful after-school activities. Academically, classes have been more engaging and we can do more activities that we could not do over Zoom. It’s also a lot easier and more fun to work with classmates on projects in person.

Through the school’s processes during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have learned how important adapting to different situations is and to be ready to take a curveball at any time. It’s been like a long road-trip journey, with ups and downs and unpredictable turns, but in the end, I got to have a memorable experience. Let’s keep driving ahead!

Kathleen Xie is an eighth-grader at Pinewood School.

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