A strange situation but good to be back in class

Boris Johnson says he is determined to keep students at school. Today Matthew Jones, a sixth former at Shifnal’s Idsall School, explains how his day has changed.

Although we are nine months into 2020, it feels like so much longer.

In the six months we were all off school, some may have done little in the way of studying, and others may have rarely socialised outside the limits of Snapchat or Instagram.

Even though I have, that did not mean I felt completely prepared for my return to school, let alone to sixth form, with new subjects, new people, new teachers and a new way of doing things. Frankly, it has been a lot to handle.

Masks are now strongly advised outside of classrooms, outside routes to classes are preferred and hand sanitizer is all around school out of sheer necessity.

We are keeping in bubbles of school years, hanging around in small groups, and trying to observe social distancing where possible.

And as for teachers, many have kept isolated from other staff nearly entirely, and are limited in the ways they can teach with Covid-19 restrictions in place, staying at the front of the class, unable to help students in the same way as they could before.

On top of this, my return to school was bound to be nerve-wracking, even in a normal year, since at sixth form we have a new way of learning, in smaller groups – 12 is a record for my film studies class – fewer subjects (I only chose three), along with more independence, which can be both a curse and a blessing at the same time.

Many of my friends had stopped at Idsall for sixth form, some had chosen other colleges and some students chose to come here from elsewhere.

Therefore, I have been keen to be as sociable as possible, trying to talk to people I had rarely spoken to in my prior schooling years, or to those that I had never met before.

To be honest, socialising was a little awkward even with friends, since I had only spoken to many of them on social media over the summer.

It has been a vital connection but not the same as face-to-face interaction.

I think this pandemic will teach us all to appreciate those friendships and the support that they can offer, after all, not many of us will have experienced anything like this before.

In a way, it feels like I am back in March – nobody seems to have really changed in spite of the obvious, although I know that beneath the surface, this is probably not entirely true.

For many, anxieties have worsened over the past six months, and for some, the coronavirus pandemic has brought up its own demons, worries about the health of vulnerable family members, fears over job losses and a tanking economy, or simply just concern about our future, and whether things will ever really get back to normal.

In my case, lockdown meant missing sitting my GCSEs and while I am thrilled with the teacher-assessed grades I ended up with, the celebrations I might have expected were somewhat muted because of the obvious restrictions.

I realise, however, the pandemic has robbed so many people of far worse.

Upon returning to school, many of my friends have felt secure in a new routine – although it still feels slightly alien to me.

I am glad for an order to my day but I know for some the presence of hundreds of students who cannot be socially distanced at all times is a source of anxiety.

I have tried to take sixth form in my stride, enjoying every lesson and nearly always using my study periods to do something productive.

I have continued to learn the guitar, and read – currently To Kill A Mockingbird – outside of school, and have chosen to take the AQA Extended Project Qualification to continue learning about music history (my lockdown passion was buying an excessive amount of vinyl records), and because there are currently no after school activities to speak of.

In every aspect of school life, there is plenty of evidence of a ‘new normal’, even down to the school library temporarily closing.

And we are only a few weeks into 'corona' school life, an experience no other generation has ever faced before, but as 2020 goes, it is not too bad.

For one, the Canteen Pod now serves my favourite chocolate bar, Twix White Chocolate, and I can now listen to my music in between lessons.

It is the little things that will get us through A-levels, and ultimately through life.

I am looking forward to my future, aiming to take full advantage of every lesson, every test and every hour at school, because these opportunities could disappear just as quickly as schools were closed back in March.

The next two years could very well be riddled with their own unique problems, and as I step out into new horizons I feel optimistic for what lies ahead, and in the way we will all respond if we hit further bumps in the road.

And until then, I join everybody in hoping that 2021 will be worth the wait.

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