To Return or To Not Return: Students Face Choice of How to Attend Classes

Abby Allen, Staff Writer

For nine months, Seattle Prep’s campus has remained a near ghost town. The once lively, buzzing hallways – deserted. The energetic, engaging classrooms – empty. The spirited assemblies, sporting events – halted. Few students, faculty, and staff had visited the eerily vacant campus they consider home.

Since last March, the Prep administration was guided by a singular goal: how to create the safest, most conducive learning environment for its students. The Seattle Prep faculty and staff worked tirelessly towards this goal. The culmination of their efforts resulted in a 23 page “Seattle Prep Safe Return Plan” involving four cohorts divided by last names, reconstructed classrooms, revised bell schedules, clearly marked walkways, mandatory mask wearing, and the regular cleaning of all surfaces. The week of January 10th saw this plan in action; students were invited back to campus in 25% alphabetical cohorts on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Feelings about returning to campus remain largely mixed. Though many students returned, many students opted to stay home. Student reasons for staying home vary. Any student who traveled over Christmas break was required to quarantine for fourteen days, thus potentially missing their first day back. Other students simply feel safer at home. This choice protects themselves and others from COVID-19.

Junior Mai Nguyen said that he is “concerned about the COVID protection policies and the dramatic change from being virtual for almost a year to back in person.” Because he works at a restaurant and hospital, he wants to stay “as safe as possible.” He plans to return to school as soon as he is vaccinated.

Senior Alex Battle feels similar to Nguyen. She sees returning to school as potentially dangerous: “whether it’s not disinfecting the classrooms or people wearing masks incorrectly, I worry that we will be at fault for continuing to spread the virus.” By staying home, she is protecting her family. Like Nguyen, she plans to stay virtual until vaccinated, “if not for the rest of the year.”

On the other hand, Senior Larson Cronk considered his first day back very successful. He believes in-person learning to have less distractions than Zoom classes, providing for a more focused school day. While at school, he felt safe (and cold with all the windows open): “I did go for one day and everyone is wearing masks and socially distanced.” Cronk really enjoyed his day back and hopes “we get to keep going back to school even if it only a percentage of the school being there.”

Like Cronk, freshman Claire Cunningham stepped foot onto the Prep campus for the first time this year on January 11th. For her, this felt like a “somewhat of a normal school day.” She called her return to school “very fun” as she “got to see all her classmates for the first time this year in person, and she felt very safe.” She enjoyed seeing her teachers and having a “real conversation” with her friends at lunch.

Ultimately, returning to school remains a balancing act. How can students learn most effectively in a safe environment? For some, this means Zoom calls at home. For others, this means in a socially distanced classroom with masks on and windows open. As Seattle Prep continues to facilitate the return of its students to school in the coming weeks and months, each student faces a choice: to return or to not return.