Students Consider Choice to Return to School or Stay Virtual


Photo by Olivia W.

Students who chose to come back for in person school also have a choice about where to eat their lunches. During their lunch break, students may choose to eat outside in the Kiss-and-Ride loop on white dots spaced 6 feet apart. It’s a popular option, and many students enjoy the time outside.

When Longfellow Middle School announced that it would reopen, students were faced with a difficult decision. Stick with virtual learning, or go back to in-person school? Many students chose to remain at home, but others picked the second option, and between March 2nd and 11th, approximately 700 students walked through the school doors for the first time in almost a year. There were pros and cons to either decision, but many students feel they made the right choice for their personal needs.

In-Person School

“I was really excited to go back in-person,” 8th grader Julia T. said. “It was an awesome feeling because I knew that I was going to go back in-person and see old faces, and see old teachers, and see old friends.” 

This was the shared feeling among many Longfellow students, who felt that going in-person gave them the chance to socialize and see their friends, something many teens had missed out on during the pandemic. 

“It’s really nice to see people in person,” 7th grader Olivia W. added. 

Other in-person students were more concerned about their ability to learn. 

“I think my grades will be a lot better once we go back,” said Longfellow student Aurelia N., who, at the time, was scheduled to return to school the following week. “Instead of having distractions at home, you’d be in school, and some of your teachers would be there to help you.” 

While there were many social benefits of in-person learning, those advantages came with a cost. 

“I do think that maybe we should be a bit more careful social distancing in the hallways,” Julia suggested. “I think that’s the one place where people are rushing to class and not really thinking about how close they are to people, and they don’t realize that they’re not really social distancing.” 

Walking in the hallways has caused concern among students worried about COVID-19 when they went back to school. 

“They’re doing a great job keeping everybody apart, other than walking in the hallways,” Olivia admitted. 

While walking in the hallways proved to be a bit of a problem, many students feel comfortable at lunch, especially if it’s outside. 

“I think it’s a much safer option than lunch inside,” Olivia said. “It’s also really fun, especially when the weather is nice.” 

Many students choose to go outside to eat lunch every day possible. While many are concerned about COVID-19, some just enjoy being outside. 

“Lunch is a great time to talk with people, and I love how we can go outside during lunch,” Julia said. “I have felt pretty safe in the cafeteria, but I feel safer when I’m outside, and I actually think that they should continue letting us eat outside even after corona is over because it’s something I’ve enjoyed very much.” 

In elementary school, kids got to go outside for recess to relax a little and breathe in fresh air. Maybe in middle school, having lunch outside could be that quick break from being cooped up indoors all day. It would be a very beneficial experience for student’s mental health and a nice break from hours of learning in classrooms. 

Virtual Learning

While many students were thrilled to go back to school, other students were more comfortable staying home. 

“Just going into school would add more stress,” said Rita D., who chose to stay virtual. “Waking up earlier, getting to school on time, and just being around other people, too. It would add more stress, and I’d have to start a new routine.” 

Middle school is already a stressful time for many students, and virtual school was a way for them to escape that by being in a comfortable, familiar environment. However, while virtual school is less stressful, some students feel they aren’t getting as much attention as in-person students. 

“I feel that sometimes the teachers aren’t paying as much attention to the virtual students,” Rita said. “Teachers will offer more hands-on materials to students in-person, and then the people online have to do a worksheet or something like that.” 

Even students who are in-person acknowledged a difference in the instruction for virtual and in-person students. 

“Sometimes, the teacher will have to talk to the people in person and also online a little bit separately,” Julia admitted. 

The Teachers’ Choice

While the students clearly had a choice about going in-person, the teachers had to have a medical exemption to teach virtually, according to journalism and creative writing teacher Andrea Duggan. 

“It wasn’t as much of a choice as it was for students,” she explained. “But the county had been pretty clear that we could be called back to in person at any time.” 

The teachers had three choices about how they could teach. They could put in paperwork for a request to work from home because of a medical condition that made them at risk for COVID-19 (whether for themselves or a member of their family), they could take an unpaid leave of absence, or they could return to the building to teach. For teachers without a medical condition, it wasn’t much of a choice, but many were excited to finally see the faces of their students.


Whether students chose in-person or virtual learning, most feel confident about the choice they made. 

“I feel much more relaxed, like I don’t have to wake up as early. I can just get up, go onto my computer whenever I’m ready and log into school,” Rita said. “It’s easier to switch between classes or get work done because I have all my materials with me.” 

In-person students are also happy with their choice. Many feel safe at school, even with the pandemic, and are having an easier time learning. While they haven’t had enough time in school to see a significant change in their grades, many are receiving better marks on papers and are excited to see if that will continue. 

“It is a lot easier to learn and focus,” Olivia added. 

Socialization was a key factor for many students who chose to go back. Teens missed the good aspects of school, such as seeing and talking to other people.

“You’re not staring at your screen all day,” Julia continued. “You get a better connection with people; you can see their facial expressions and hear the tone of their voice, and it’s just, in my opinion, it’s better.”

The 2020 and 2021 school year was strange, to say the least. Students and teachers alike had to adapt to the new restrictions and way of learning. With school returning to normal in the fall, it appears that this anomaly of a year is finally ending. But even if we can put virtual learning behind us, this school year will be one to remember.