Everything feels temporary

Stacey+Duckworth+takes+incoming+phone+calls+from+the+nurse%27s+office+requesting+students+who+need+to+quarantine+immediately.+

Andrea Nichols

Stacey Duckworth takes incoming phone calls from the nurse’s office requesting students who need to quarantine immediately.

I don’t feel safe at school. 

The phone rings in Margie Coleman’s statistics class and the laughter that once filled the room is replaced with anxiety and quiet whispers.  “Yes, she’s right here, I will let her know. Thank you.” Coleman begins making her way over to the oblivious student seated across the room. “The nurse wants you and all of your things to go down to her office immediately,” says Coleman. A concerned expression fills the student’s face, followed by a moment of realization.

Have a nice quarantine, I think to myself.  

I used to sit in art class. Bored. Art had never been my strong suit. I would stare desperately at the arrows on the old analog clock. Pleading with them. Begging them to pick up their agonizingly slow pace. I’d glance down at my poorly drawn giraffe, and he’d glance back. He appeared just as discontent as I was. There we were, in 3rd bell Drawing 1, both waiting for the bell to ring. Now we wait on a different sound–the phone–which doesn’t provide the sweet release to German class. The phone makes our blood run cold.

Another call. Another positive case. Another student sent home to quarantine. Another worried educator. Every. Single. Day. Who’s next? 

I watch my classmates drop like flies. I watch them pack up their things and walk out the front doors. I watch the ones who remain silently ask the question: who’s next? 

School has turned into a dystopian novel I don’t want to read anymore and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m not allowed to shut this book. Instead I am expected to sit in class like the straight A student I was during the previous years. I’m expected to sit and raise my hand politely, pretending I’m not fixated on invisible germs that float around me, thinking who’s next? This has become our new normal. 

“Everything feels temporary,” says Isaac Miller, a newly quarantined senior. 

We wait around for the next cancellation or shut down, causing a shift in the attitude of the student body. Comfort is no longer an option for anxiety-filled students. 

“At any instant we could have to drop everything and go online. Everyone is just constantly waiting on what [Governor] Dewine could say. I got quarantined for the first time this week because I was exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID. Wednesday was my first day of online school and I felt like I was on a whole other island from everyone else. I know that the teachers try to be inclusive of the online students, but I still feel I’m learning less over Zoom,” says Miller. 

Teachers struggle to sooth the wave of uneasiness among their students, while keeping a classroom that resembles any ounce of normalcy. 

“On one side, I am so glad that we are taking the steps to keep students safe. I know that placing a student in quarantine allows us to be ‘better safe than sorry’ and prevent potential spread,” said Stacey Duckworth “However, it is easy to see how on edge everyone is. The quarantines almost put out an air of ‘who’s next?’ and that is causing a lot of anxiety.”

We are expected to stay vigilant, while ignoring that this year is anything but normal.  The administration keeps reminding us to stay focused during these troubling times, implying that I should submit my assignments before the clock strikes midnight. As if I’m not busy desperately trying to convince my father to wear his mask in public. Thinking who’s next? As if students’ parents’ aren’t losing jobs. Thinking who’s next? As if some people don’t know whether or not they’ll be coming home to an empty dinner table. Thinking who’s next? As if some students aren’t dreading the call to shut down because they’d rather face a pandemic than their rough home life. Thinking who’s next? As if math and science will do us any good while we are watching our nation tear itself in half over a virus that is killing thousands of innocent people. And some people still just don’t care. Who’s next?

“I think relationships are more important this year than ever. For me, it is the little things. I greet students at the door because I want them to know that I am glad they are here,” Duckworth said.

We watch our personalities take a one-eighty. The kids we grew up with have changed from outgoing to quiet. From certain to uncertain. From eager to uninterested. 

“I have realized that I really shouldn’t have taken things for granted. Being quarantined has been a real eye opener for me,” said Morgan Hubbard,  a newly quarantined senior. “One day I was in class, learning with my friends and the next I was stuck at home. Everyone just seems sad. It’s almost like an apocalypse. I am afraid that we are going to close down again, and I won’t get to finish my senior year. I don’t want to have a drive-by graduation like the Class of 2020. But I’m trying to focus on the positive.”

I’m sitting in art class. My grandma is in the hospital, and everything feels temporary. And all I’m left with is this poorly drawn giraffe staring back at me. 

I’d do anything to feel bored again.

I don’t feel safe at school.

Update: I knew as soon as I started writing this piece, timeliness would be the most important element. 24 hours before this story was scheduled to publish the superintendent’s office put out an all call alerting students and parents that school would be going virtual Monday November 23rd and Tuesday November 24th due to a lack of substitute teachers. In some ways, last night’s call provided relief, finally answering my question of “who’s next?”