517 Days Later: Students, Staff React to First Week Back

For the first time since March 2020, BOHS welcomed its entire student body, staff, and faculty to campus. Here are some of the reactions to the long-awaited full in-person return to 789 Wildcat Way.

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Alexis Alexander

Ocean Park, freshman, performs back flips in the quad as staff member Kevin O’Dea observes the lunchtime crowds. The week of Aug. 16 to Aug. 20 marked the first time in 17 months that the entire student body had access to the quad for lunch.

517.

517 days between the March 17, 2020 shutdown of all Brea Olinda Unified School District (BOUSD) schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and their re-opening to full in-person instruction on Aug. 16, 2021.

Finally, after 17 months of distance and “hybrid” learning (and two socially-distanced summers), BOUSD students and staff were permitted to return to their home campuses. 

After experiencing the first full week of being on campus, the Wildcat asked BOHS staff and students for their thoughts on the long-awaited return to Wildcat Way.

For many students, connecting face-to-face with teachers and friends was the highlight of being back on campus. 

“Building bonds with each one of [my teachers] was super fun,” Adrienne Carren, sophomore, said. She was also excited to see those friends who had remained online during hybrid.

Despite feeling unaccustomed to sitting down in a classroom filled with students for 55 minutes, Samantha Hernandez, junior, actually found it “fun and really nice to participate in class” and to get to know her peers.

Another bonus of being in-person versus online: No more bouncing from class to class on Zoom and staring at a screen for hours. 

“Really refreshing,” Pauline Kang, senior, said about not having to sit in front of a computer all day. She also found it “fun” to walk through the crowded hallways while greeting her friends in-person.

Cameron Lee, senior, concurred: “I was actually really looking forward to being back on campus because I had been on Zoom all year and it just wasn’t the same as being in-person.” 

Haylee Long, sophomore, greets students from across the quad. (Alexis Alexander)

Although Christine Cheon, senior, felt “nervous” about going back to school, she was happy to socialize with her peers on campus, instead of through the screens of her laptop and phone. 

Many students interviewed commented on the many distractions — from the lure of YouTube videos, the temptations of the fridge, and disruptive siblings — that came with online learning. 

Tamarea Jaster, senior, found it “easier to stay focused in school rather than on Zoom,” because of the physical learning environment and the presence of peers and teachers. 

While many students were relieved to leave Zoom in the past, some missed the virtual platform.

As much as Alyson Hsiu, senior, enjoyed seeing everyone’s mask-covered faces when she returned to campus on Aug. 16, she misses the “benefits of being in a Zoom class,” such as the comfort of being in a private space and having more flexibility with her plans for the day.

With the 17 month hiatus of in-person school, some students found it difficult to adjust to the new routines. 

Catherine Chiu, junior, found the first week “overwhelming” because something that used to be so normal — being physically present in class — felt alien and tough to adapt to. She also found it “difficult” to have to walk from one class to another across the entire campus during the five-minute passing periods. (Passing periods during distance and hybrid learning were 10 minutes long.)

For Aanika Parekh, junior, in-person classes felt like she just “picked up where [she] left off at the end of freshman year.” With the absence of physical learning in the past 17 months, Parekh was reminded of the loud and often chaotic environment of classes full of students felt like.

Stepping onto an unfamiliar campus with new people was at first daunting for Alisha Choi, freshman, especially coming back from the long “break” from in-person school. Yet, Choi is happy to be on campus where she can pay attention in class without encountering internet outages and dropped connections.

BOHS teachers shared their students’ enthusiasm about the return to campus.

“I love being back in-person. My heart is so happy to have everyone back on campus with no Zoom and no [desk] shields,” Brittney Eaton, history teacher, said. “Of course, it was an adjustment for everyone, but overall I felt happy vibes.”

That happiness was reflected in students’ chattiness and positive energy in the classroom. “Everyone seemed so happy to be at school together after so much time apart. I think everyone was just relieved to return to a more normal school routine and environment,” Amanda Hefner, English teacher, said. 

Kara Dietz, Skills for Success and Health teacher, said that “It was absolutely wonderful to have students back on campus and be able to interact with them in-person.” She was delighted to hear kids talking to each other, laughing, and just “being teenagers.”

“We missed that,” Dietz said. 

Seniors Sophia Renfro, Emma Koren, and Haylie Kent eat lunch in the Senior Quad on Aug. 16. (Diana Lee)

Traditionally, the assigning of group projects has been a source of dread for many students. This year, however, group projects, at least in Korean teacher Sera Yoon’s classes, have been met with enthusiasm. “Students are more eager to be put into groups for group projects because I’m sure they miss that interaction with other classmates. Whenever I had my students work on group projects in the past, especially when I would put them into random groups, they hated it,” Yoon said. 

Pam Valenti, ASB advisor and math teacher, noticed that students seemed “genuinely happy” to be at school and surrounded by their peers. Valenti said, “I think it is exciting that Link Crew was able to hold their ‘Welcome Day’ and that ASB student leaders were able to welcome students back with music and greet them at the front and provide photo backdrops for first week photos.”

“Better than I imagined,” Bryson Burns, history teacher, said when asked for his reaction to being back on campus after teaching students on Zoom for a year and a half. Because many students have been lacking critical social interactions due to distance learning and COVID-19, Burns feels that it is essential that high schoolers connect with each other through the in-person school experience. 

Brian Schlueter, history teacher, thought it was “awesome” to see “so much great energy,” and to witness students interacting with excited voices. “I hope we can keep things moving in a great direction while keeping everybody safe,” Schlueter added. 

Dr. Joshua Porter, principal — hired to helm BOHS in the midst of the pandemic prior to the start of the 2020-2021 school year — experienced a full campus for the first time last week. “What I personally enjoyed most on the first day of school was the interaction with students” Porter said. “When students seem to care as much about us as we do them, you know you are in a good place. This trait is one that makes BOHS both a special and great place to work.”