There is no lunch. Hallways are marked one way or have tape denoting lanes for foot traffic. Desks are spread far apart.
Water fountains are blocked off except to refill water bottles.
“It still doesn’t really feel like school because we’re still super far apart, not really talking to each other in class,” said senior Ezra Decherong. “It’s still weird, but I’m getting used to it.”
Oak Harbor High School students have returned to school buildings for the first time since being sent home almost a year ago amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
They are the first high school students on Whidbey to be allowed back inside. Hybrid in-person classes began Feb. 9 at the high school.
In the new model, half of the student body attends in-person classes for two days of the week while the other half learns at home. Students attend classes for three hours in the morning both days and finish the day with distance learning at home. They can also pick up a lunch to take home with them.
Decherong, a football player, said he had seen some other students while everyone was at home for distance learning because students in sports were permitted to do workouts outdoors. He said they would exercise in pods of six inside batting cages.
Only one of Decherong’s friends decided to continue distance learning.
According to an enrollment report presented during a school board meeting earlier this month, about 400 students in grades 9-12 decided to stay at home this month, while more than 1,100 transitioned to hybrid in-person classes.
Decherong wanted to come to school and his mom told him it was his decision.
“I feel sleepy when I’m just on the computer at home, so I like being in person,” Decherong said.
Fellow senior Annie Salinger was also excited to return.
“Honestly, I was so joyful,” Salinger said. “Just being back at school, because it’s almost been a year.”
She said she is a hands-on learner and missed sitting in a classroom. The school prepared students to expect safety protocols, she said, and staying socially distant when getting help from a teacher does require extra effort.
“Those are the little things that can make you a little stressful,” she said. “It’s just getting used to what the new normal is now, I guess.”
Both students said there were some things they appreciated about distance learning. Decherong said he liked being able to go at his own pace for the day’s assignments. Salinger said her schedule was slower because she was not rushing to the next class or an after school activity.
Decherong said he expected to be a little busier with the return to in-person classes. He also noticed that students don’t talk to each other as much.
“It’s like distance learning, but you’re in the class,” he said, pointing out that students still keep to themselves.
Salinger, on the other hand, said she thought people were getting used to being together and were talkative in her classes.
One of the safety protocols students have had to get used to is wearing masks during the school day. Decherong said he had grown accustomed to it because he had to wear one during football workouts. Salinger said that although it’s uncomfortable, she is getting used to it.
“I know wearing it will keep the school open so I’m definitely respecting that,” she said, adding that others were too.
Both students said they felt that people outside the school were wrong to think students would not stick to safety precautions.
“I feel like a lot of people who aren’t in the school don’t know what it’s actually like,” Decherong said. “Everyone’s all spaced out and being safe.”