Underclassmen adapt to high school amid pandemic


Photo by Alexandra Jernell

A class of freshmen work on their APEX English assignment. Many underclassmen have taken advantage of the rigorous APEX program offered at WJ.

Everyone at one point in their life has heard the phrase “you blink and then it’s over.”  For freshmen, this pretty much sums up their middle school experience. Before they knew it they were trading out the familiar, small middle school hallways for the unrecognizable faces of WJ.   

At the beginning of the pandemic, current freshmen (then seventh graders) were sent home. They were told it would be a two week break but ended up learning virtually for the remainder of their middle school career. Now back in school, these students are finding ways to adapt.

“The biggest challenge in transitioning is having shorter classes than last year and not knowing much because we didn’t learn everything last year,” freshman Maia Bingley said. 

For a majority of new students, finding their way around the building has been particularly difficult. Freshman Seth Stein is among the students who struggled to get to class on time the first few days.

“Once I understood how the classroom numbers worked, it was easy to find my classes and I’m not having a hard time anymore,” Stein said. 

The struggles of being a new student are not unique to the freshmen class. For most sophomores their last year of in-person school was eighth grade, so they never had the opportunity to establish a presence at WJ. Due to this, sophomores may feel as if they are just an extension of the freshman class. 

“We just take different classes and are older. We can’t help [freshman] with anything really. We don’t know where anything is, what the lunches cost, basically anything about the school. Clubs weren’t the same and everything was different so we have as much of an idea of what’s happening as them,” sophomore Rachael Keehn said. 

U.S. History and sociology teacher Katharina Matro understands the transition many underclassmen may be going through as this is her first year teaching at WJ. Due to this, she has made an effort to get to know her students better. 

“One thing that is important to me is to really have a relationship with [freshmen]. I ask them questions at the beginning of class to start conversations. I’m a total newbie too so I bond with them over being a newbie,” Matro said. 

Community involvement is pivotal in shaping the overall high school experience. While a few new students, such as Keehn and Bingley, are interested in joining sports, others turn to clubs and events. 

“I am attending each football game to support [WJ] and have joined the Jewish Student Union,” Stein said. 

Although underclassmen have had to re-adjust their routines to adapt to in-person learning at WJ, a majority are happy to be back in a true school environment.

“School is more than a bunch of rooms, it’s the people who attend. The atmosphere of people in hallways and chatting in class is something I think is a crucial part of the high school experience,” Keehn said.