back to school

‘I Don’t Want to Make My Mom Sick’

Photo: Getty Images

Since well before the last school year ended, parents and teachers have been wondering what the coming year might look like. Kids have been wondering, too. Nine students from across the country told us about what their hopes are for the upcoming school year: germaphobic teachers, trips to the library, and finally being able to hug their friends.


Entering sixth grade
Public school, California

The day we found out school was going online, it was kind of weird. Because it popped out of the blue, like, poof! We had fun the rest of the day, because we thought it might be the last time we’d see each other.

Online school, it was kind of weird. The work was really easy, but my brain was scattered all over the place. I’m used to being in a certain place to do work. And instead I was on a computer, and there were all these technical difficulties. But at this point I’m actually kind of used to online school. We got this loft bed and this desk for me, so I’m all set up for next year.

Our fifth grade teacher, she used to always scare us and say that sixth grade wouldn’t be a child’s game, you have to be prepared, you can’t just go la di da. So it was already kind of scary. Now that we’re online, it’s going to be so much more complicated.

I’m starting at a totally new school, and I’ve never been there before. I don’t know if any of my friends are going to my new school. There’s this thing called Google Hangouts, and I made a new friend on it. She sent me an invitation and we’ve been getting along really well. We both like playing games, we like talking, we’re both kind of lazy. Well, I’m not usually lazy. When we weren’t in this pandemic I was filled to the brim. I was doing circus and gymnastics.

My mom has asthma, so I am nervous about getting her sick if we go back to school and this thing is still floating around. We’re a single-parent household. We’ve talked about it kind of, not really to the point. I have told her that I’m a little bit nervous about it.

But someday, going outside without a mask! Actually interacting would be pretty nice to do. Like seeing people, being able to run around without a mask. That will be heaven.


Entering fourth grade
Public school, New York

Online school was okay, I guess. It was a bit unnatural, but I liked it. I’m just not used to not actually seeing everybody in person. We were able to talk to our friends in the morning, when they would start the meeting a little early. It was not my favorite, but it was the best we could do.

Gym got a little bit hard. We would do jumping jacks, or run laps around the apartment. We tried doing baseball with some trash — making a target and trying to throw things at the target. I didn’t like gym as much in online school.

One of the weird things about online school: if you’re getting bullied, or someone else is getting bullied, at least they can’t hurt you physically. They can hurt your pride, but they cannot physically hurt you. So at least you can’t really get hurt in online school.

I haven’t really thought about what I hope happens. I do want things to just go back to normal. But I guess I am a little worried about going back to school. Coronavirus is still around, and we still haven’t found a cure.

I’m glad my teachers are not sick. Last year my teachers were always nice to me and the rest of the class. They’d only be mean if we were really annoying them. And if they’d get angry, they’d kind of be funny about it.

Most teachers I’ve experienced I’ve loved. I’ve always loved to just see their face after class.

If we could go back in person, I would be excited about it. Just being able to kind of use all the art supplies, like glue, scissors, staplers, paper. I’m just trying to go with it. If it happens, it happens. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. You’ve just gotta let the world go how it wants.

Princesska and Adam

Entering seventh grade (Princesska) and eighth grade (Adam)
Public school, Florida

Princesska: If I could, I’d choose going back face to face, in person. The only difference would be having a mask and staying distanced.

Adam: I’d rather do face to face, too. It’s more fun. You get things better than on camera. Some cameras get glitchy. Face to face, you can actually see what’s going on.

Princesska: I wouldn’t be nervous to go back, because I usually have my mask on.

Adam: Our school gives you computers, so you and only you get to touch your computer. My dad said he would get me baby wipes and some gloves and hand sanitizer. Those things are very useful during this time. I’m asthmatic, so I’m going to be careful and clean and distant. I’m very friendly, so I want to talk face to face, but not actually face to face. Phone number, please!

Princesska: I worry about the other students. If a student is really, really terrified, they’ll follow the rules. But some parents tell their kids that coronavirus isn’t real.

Adam: How the teachers will handle it depends on the teacher’s attitude. If they’re germaphobic, every time you give them a paper, they’re going to put gloves on. They’ll wear a mask, or maybe double! Germaphobic teachers are going to be strict. No shaking hands! No touching someone else’s pencil. I would really like a germaphobic teacher. Germaphobic teachers are the best kind during this time.


Entering ninth grade
Private school, moving to public, New York

I’m a little nervous if we go on Zoom next year. It’s weird enough to be going to a new school, but it’s weirder to only see your classmates while you’re in your house. I think it’s going to be harder to feel comfortable, even if we are in person, wearing a mask and social distancing — just harder to have a social life with my peers, especially if I don’t know them.

I think I’ll have an easier time with the academics — I do well independently. But there were definitely moments last year when I wished I could have sat down with my teachers and had an actual conversation. I just prefer talking to them one to one. When that wasn’t an option, I felt like I had to push myself to ask things in class.

When we found out we were going online last year, me and my friend were laughing about it. It was hilarious to think about just sitting on my couch and staring at my peers and doing classwork. Some teachers would do breakout rooms, so we could play games in math class or something like that. But it was a weird dynamic, because we all had not been talking to anyone outside of our families. It just didn’t feel right.

My first science class, though, we had this really amazing, interactive class, and everyone was talking and asking questions. It was a moment where it was the closest to feeling like you were in an actual classroom, and it was such a nice thing. Part of it is that our science teacher is just amazing. He said, “We’re going to do the best we can, and let’s have fun while we’re doing it.” You were still expected to answer questions and participate, and it was really fun. In other classes, it was the teacher talking the entire time. During that, my best friend and I FaceTimed the entire class and just chatted with one another. It was just not at all engaging.

I’m hoping for at least some in-person classes in the fall. It would be so nice to talk to other people, outside of the two people I see who aren’t in my family. But I would be stressed out by going back, because I know there would be so many rules that other people wouldn’t follow. In ninth grade, it’s people pushing limits. But social distancing rules aren’t limits we should be pushing. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

Elizabeth and Lily

Entering fifth grade (Elizabeth) and third grade (Lily)
Public school, California

How was it, going to school online last year?

Elizabeth: I did not like it.

Lily: It was horrible.

E: I would rather learn with my teacher.

L: Yeah! Face to face.

E: Especially the math. It’s easier when you do it with a teacher, because she explains it.

How about friends? Could you see them on your Zoom meetings?

E: Not so much.

L: Most of them weren’t on the Zoom meetings.

E: And we barely had any. I like seeing my friends, and I miss all of them.

What else do you miss?

E: The worst part about last year was we missed a lot of field trips.

L: We could go on them when we get back!

E: But I don’t want to go on the bus.

L: I love the bus. Even though there’s gum on the seats. And people throwing paper all around.

What have you heard about what school might be like next year?

E: I think we’re going to be wearing masks.

L: It’ll be horrible. Masks all day, but for lunch you can take it off.

E: I think we’re going to be wearing masks even when we eat!

How do you feel about going back?

E: I’m excited. School is one of my happy places. I honestly love going to school. Even the work! That’s how we learn and get older.

L: I love, love going to school. It’s the best part of the day. I love reading, and playtime, and making friends. Making friends at school is a very important part of going to school. Seeing my friends is the thing I love the most.

What are you nervous about when you think about going back?
L: *Cough cough* coronavirus. Getting it.

E: It’s a big decision to go back, with COVID around.

L: It’s called COVID-19.

E: We talk about wash our hands, keep our hands out of our mouth, wear masks, put on hand sanitizers. And social distancing.

L: Germs!

E: We have to do it so we can keep ourselves safe, and our family. I think it would be hard at first to do it at school. But maybe when every teacher and kid gets used to it, it would be easier.

L: But some things are good about the coronavirus. You get to spend time with your family, and to go on more vacations. But only to the places that are open.


Entering eighth grade
Public school, New York

We found out we were going online on a Friday. My parents told me once we got home from school. I was a mixture of relieved and mildly irritated. But if it helps people be safe, that’s gotta be a good thing.

I feel like I’m pretty lucky because I can learn online. It’s along the lines of how my brain works. I know that other people depend on being there in person, and it must be hard for them. But I missed my teachers a lot. I like seeing people and knowing that they’re okay.

I talk about going back to school with my friends and my parents. People who have a more secure housing situation or whose parents are at home more, those people would be at an advantage with remote learning. But people who learn in a hands-on way — they would be at a disadvantage. There’s really no concrete solution. I think it would be best to leave it up to individual families, for them to work it out for themselves. I think I’d want to go in like half-time, maybe, to try and limit the risk but get as much physical learning in as possible.

I miss organizing the library, because I’m a nerd like that. I kind of freak out when the books aren’t in the right bin. Usually kids are looking for Percy Jackson. There’s an entire bin for it, and it’s never organized. So that’s a fun project.

I’ve been reading a lot this summer, but not as much as usual. There’s a kind of low-level stress that makes light reading that is not about the apocalypse a little difficult. When I talk about things with my friends, there’s a good amount of existential dread. It’s 50 percent general teenage angst, and 50 percent pessimism about the pandemic. My friends and I are hoping for a quick solution, but we’re not expecting one.


Entering fifth grade
Public school, New York

One night back in March, I was eating dinner one night and my mom was reading an article.  She said, “Looks like we’re going to have to do remote school.” I was like, “Cool! Maybe it’ll be easier.”

It was fun and interesting for the first week or two. Then I was like, “I hate this.” It was not easier. There were so many distractions. It was constant computer. I actually forgot what some of my classmates look like, because they turned off their video for all the conferences.

I worked out a way to stay focused, not let anything distract me. For a while, I was constantly, like, ooh, look, what’s that noise, or what’s this ad on my computer? I started to just pretend we were in the actual classroom and the teachers would notice if I did whatever I want. If they turn around, they will know if you’re goofing around. They have a sixth sense. We don’t mess around in the classroom. With remote, I would pretend we were there. That’s how I would pay attention.

I don’t know anything at all about what next year will be like. I’m excited about seeing my friends. Seeing their faces, actually — seeing more than just a square. I hope we’ll be back in the classroom and be able to hug each other.

‘I Don’t Want to Make My Mom Sick’