This year’s sophomores still feel like freshmen

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Credit: Eleanor Cook

Sophomores Annabelle Fuerst and Nina Holm walk home from their bus stop after school. Both students were glad to return to in-person school and chose not to remain virtual for the 2021-2022 school year.

Eleanor Cook, Guest Writer

September 1 was the second day of the 2021-2022 school year, and half of the student body didn’t know where they were going. After spending eighteen months in Google Meets, the freshmen and sophomores had never spent a full school day inside Loy Norrix.

Since it was the first day of high school for the freshmen, the unfamiliarity of the school was fairly standard. Anxiety over navigating a new school is a common feeling for freshmen, even when their eighth-grade years aren’t virtual. The sophomores, however, started their second year at Norrix without any idea of how to find their way around. Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic, the sophomores would already be familiar with the school and know the general layout of the building from their previous nine months spent there.

Annabelle Fuerst, a sophomore, had a chaotic second day without any prior knowledge of the school.

“I felt very lost. I didn’t know where I was going, or what else I was doing. It was very helpful to have a map, for sure, but even then I had no clue,” Fuerst said, “I was very nervous too because I hadn’t gone to school in a year and a half, and it was a giant building.”

Fuerst attended the 2020-2021 school year virtually, just like the rest of her class. Not being in school for eighteen months left her unprepared for how Loy Norrix would be once in-person classes resumed — leaving her basically as a freshman.

Fuerst had the opportunity to tour the school prior to the first day, but this tour focused only on the classes and hallways the freshmen would be using, not the sophomores. Without much knowledge of the school, Fuerst was left with only her map and the directions of a staff member to guide her.

Fuerst’s struggles — while not unique to her — are felt only by the KPS sophomores in Kalamazoo County.

In the MLive article, “Kalamazoo Public Schools students will remain virtual for remainder of school year,” Kayla Miller claims that Kalamazoo Public Schools was the only school district in Kalamazoo County to remain entirely virtual for the 2020-2021 school year. This would mean that all other sophomores in the county would have some experience with their schools.

While Governor Gretchen Whitmer stated during a coronavirus briefing on January 8, 2021 that she wished for all schools to be in-person by March 1, 2021, KPS did not adhere to this deadline recommendation.

At the Board of Education meeting on February 11, 2021, Superintendent Rita Raichoudhuri announced that the third trimester of the school year would be attended entirely online, making 2020-2021 the year without a physical classroom. There was no legal punishment for not following the governor’s suggestions, so the students attending their virtual classrooms all year long were affected, but the school district didn’t face repercussions..

Sophomore Nina Holm also noticed a difference in how she felt due to the virtual year.

“Well, I’ve never actually gone there [Loy Norrix] before and last year just felt… like a practice ninth grade year,” Holm said, “It didn’t really feel like I was a proper ninth grader, so this year it feels like I am a proper ninth grader.”

Fuerst shared similar sentiments about how her high school experience was affected by the pandemic.

“If anything, I would say I sometimes still almost consider myself to be an eighth-grader — like, it’s crazy,” Fuerst said. “I don’t know; I just don’t feel like a sophomore at all. I just feel like this last year and a half of school — like, online school — didn’t even count, and I still feel like I’m in eighth grade, but I happen to be going to Loy Norrix.”

Fuerst’s observations parallel Holm’s: both felt like their freshman year was meaningless. Nothing happened during this time to make them feel as though they had moved on from middle school into high school.

Upperclassmen are also able to see how a year of virtual school has affected the sophomores. Senior Danica Harper remarked that she might be able to tell the difference between the freshmen and sophomores, but it would be more difficult to do so than in previous years. Harper’s shift in perspective demonstrates how significantly COVID has impacted the sophomores past their ability to navigate the school. Navigating the school has not been the only struggle for incoming freshmen and sophomores, the pandemic also affected academic performance.

“Michigan standardized school test scores show pandemic setbacks” from ABC12 News shows data that the test scores on the M-STEP dropped for all K-12 grades, making the sophomores closer to freshmen in their academics.

The article states: “All grades saw a decline in the percentage of students testing proficient or better in math from 2019 to 2021. Sixth-graders saw the biggest drop at 6.5% less students testing proficient or better in math.”

In addition to being closer to freshmen in spirit and maturity, the academic capability of the sophomores has changed as well. The high school hierarchy of classes has already been changed for the freshmen and sophomores; another completely-virtual year may make it unrecognizable.