Reflecting On School Reopening

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There has never been a time when I wanted to go back to school so badly.

The past few months seemed surreal. When the first few U.S. coronavirus cases were reported in February, my mom took it very seriously. She lectured me on sanitizing my school desks, binders and iPad. Naturally, I thought she was being ridiculous and never did any of those things. After all, the cases were thousands of miles away and did not affect my daily life.

One day, I was not allowed to go to school. I was told that until I could be a responsible member of the family, school was out of the question. Eventually I promised to sanitize my things, take a shower as soon as I got home, and change clothes. Things went back to normal, but it didn’t last long.

In the middle of March, when the school was closed, I thought it was just going to be for a few weeks. However, it soon became clear that none of us would be returning for the rest of the school year. I learned to adjust to the new normal with virtually no outside contact.
I was glad that for the most part the Great Neck community did a great job with quarantine and proper social distancing. Teachers stepped up to quickly to make remote learning possible. Students adjusted to the new normal. The cases of coronavirus came down significantly. We successfully flattened the curve.

This summer has been different from the others. No summer vacation, or sleepaway camp. I had to admit I was frustrated at times.

As I am venturing outside more, I am also getting nervous. I’m not sure what happened. Perhaps it was the sweltering heat and the humidity, or the frustration of being cooped up for too long. Suddenly, everyone seemed to relax on social distancing and take the virus much less seriously.

Last week, my mom and I went hiking. It was a hot, humid day. I understand that it’s not mandatory to wear a mask in open space. We did, just to be safe, and for the courtesy of others. I could count with my hands how many people wore masks in the state park. Luckily most of the time it was pretty easy to maintain social distancing. However, there were some narrow passages where it became difficult to stay away from strangers.

I understand that I should respect people’s freedom to not wear a mask, but it was very unpleasant when a group of people simply blocked my pathway, laughing and talking loudly pretty much into my face, without wearing a mask. The experience was jilting. It got worse. After getting back to Great Neck, we decided to treat ourselves some frozen yogurt at Sixteen Handles. The second we went in, we caught sight of two people in the middle of the store talking to each other loudly and laughing without masks, despite the sign at the door mandating face masks. We left without buying anything. The blatant disregard for public safety was astounding to me. How could schools, or anything for that matter, reopen safely if people acted this way?

I have a mixed feeling about going back to school. I want to see my teachers and friends again. But I also realize the risks the school can pose to every one of us and people whom we come in contact with. School will become a center point, where each brings what he or she is exposed to. Although there have been few coronavirus casualties among children, we can still spread the virus and infect people we come in contact with.

It does not matter what President Trump, Governor Cuomo, or what the district decides. Ultimately we are the ones who decide whether schools can safely reopen in September and more importantly, stay open. What we do in the next few weeks, and during face-to-face learning, will be critical. We must learn to live with inconveniences in our lives, because after all, it is better than sacrificing human lives. We must do this, not just for ourselves, but the sake of everyone around us.

Joy Wei will be an eighth grader at Great Neck North Middle School. She likes art and writing.

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