Virtual students reflect on return to in-person school

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 1.2 billion students around the world choose virtual learning for the 2020-21 school year. LISD did not renew its virtual learning option, so students are required to attend in-person classes this year. “The Hawk Eye” explored the contrasting experiences of four students who were completely virtual last year and their reflection on coming back to in-person school. 

Freshman David Park (Photo by Hyunsol Lim)

Making the transition from middle school to high school can be challenging, particularly for students like freshman David Park, who attended his eighth grade year virtually.

“I was still getting used to middle school because I left in the middle of 7th grade,” Park said. “I wasn’t fully prepared to jump right into high school after being virtual last year.”

Park quickly became accustomed to the lack of strict due dates, the amount of spare time he had and the flexibility of his schedule.

“We didn’t have to worry too much about the consequences of not attending meetings, and I had a lot more free time because I just stayed at home,” Park said. “It was boring because I didn’t have any social interaction with anyone.”

Park said returning to in-person school for his freshman year was the best decision for him. He was initially concerned about his work ethic, which had weakened during his time as a virtual student, but as an in-person student, he said he now absorbs information and subjects better.

“It’s exciting to come back to in-person school this year,” Park said. “It might be a bit more difficult than the virtual path, but it is exciting.”

Sophomore Diego Cordero Paz (Photo by Hyunsol Lim)

Sophomore Diego Cordero Paz was nervous about returning to in-person school on the main campus after being a full-time virtual freshman. Last year, Cordero Paz rarely visited the main campus and was worried if he would be able to navigate the many hallways. 

“Coming back to the main campus made me a little bit stressed, but after two hours, I was used to it,” Cordero Paz said. “I was obviously nervous about not seeing the main campus before.” 

Cordero Paz opted for the virtual route due to his mother and father being high-risk for COVID-19. Since his parents are older and more susceptible to COVID, Cordero Paz decided to learn at home to reduce the risk of potentially spreading COVID-19 to his parents.

“If I went to in-person school, I would have had a higher chance of potentially exposing my parents to COVID-19,” Cordero Paz said. “Obviously, COVID-19 has a higher percentage of killing people who are older.” 

Although Cordero Paz wanted to protect his parents from COVID-19,  he couldn’t protect his freshman year from being taken away from him as a result of virtual school; however, returning to in-person school this year has helped him thrive socially and academically. He was able to reconnect with old friends, interact with new classmates and reclaim the loss of his freshman year. 

“My online journey felt kind of rushed,” Cordero Paz said. “But after coming back to in-person school this year, I can do my homework better and also see my friends who I haven’t been able to see in a long time.” 

Junior Anna Dinh (Photo by Hyunsol Lim)

For some, mental health is a touchy subject, but junior Anna Dinh, who was an all-virtual sophomore last year, is straightforward about how unhealthy her mental health was due to her virtual journey.

“I was really unproductive last year and would wake up at 1:00 p.m. or 2:00 p.m., so my mental health was really bad,” Dinh said. “I was always sitting at home and was really anxious from being alone.” 

Dinh’s grades were good despite her poor mental health. She was able to attain academic success that she said she would not have been capable of achieving in an in-person learning setting; however, this only helped Dinh temporarily, because when she returned to in-person school, she had to quickly adjust to a new environment.

“I was able to get good grades when I was virtual, but now it’s harder for me to keep up,” Dinh said. “Especially since I’m a junior this year, and I’m taking harder courses, everything is overwhelming academically.” 

Dinh feels more stressed than she was when she was virtual since she has more tests, quizzes and assignments. Although this aspect of in-person school is not Dinh’s favorite, she said being able to socialize with more people enabled her to become more mentally stable. 

“I didn’t text as often when I was virtual and only talked to a few people,” Dinh said. “Now, I’m talking to more people and meeting new friends, so my mental health is definitely better.”

Even if Dinh had the option of going virtual for her junior year, she said she would not have chosen it. Dinh considers being in-person to be one of the best decisions she has made for her mental health.

“Being able to see everyone and being back at school definitely outweighs the academic stress placed over me,” Dinh said. “I wouldn’t choose virtual over in-person even if I had the choice.”

Senior Connor Ivanoff (Photo by Hyunsol Lim)

Senior Connor Ivanoff, who was a full-time virtual junior last year, said his virtual experience was repetitive with the scenes of studying, sleeping and eating replayed constantly. Ivanoff disliked the monotony of being a virtual learner, and was glad to come back to in-person school this year.

“You just sit there doing your schoolwork all day so I didn’t have a lot of motivation to finish all my schoolwork on time,” Ivanoff said. “I was doing the same stuff over and over and just started all over again next week.”

Returning to in-person school relieved Ivanoff of the repetitive stress he had been through as a virtual student. Ivanoff is able to comprehend what he is studying more easily and learn more effectively.

“It’s easier to learn in my classes since I’m in-person,” Ivanoff said. “I took virtual honors calculus last year, and it took twice as much effort to complete than my AP statistics class which I’m taking in person this year.” 

While Ivanoff appreciates the academic benefits of returning to in-person school this year, he did not enjoy the bittersweet sense of being a senior after missing half of his high school career due to COVID-19.

“The last time I was in a pep rally, I was sitting in the sophomore section, and now I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness,’” Ivanoff said. “It really opened up my eyes on how fast high school comes to an end and to just experience it all before it does.”