A potential return to campus: hopeful outlook or unnecessary hassle?
February 13, 2021
Returning to campus has been a hot topic for many students and faculty members in the Webb community. Some enjoy in-person learning and work better in such environments, while others are worried about COVID guidelines and safety.
“I am on the fence about it because los Angeles is the epicenter of COVID-19, but I also miss my new and old friends I made through classes this year,” Celine Lau (‘22) said.
Those fears are well-founded and take precedence over any preferences. But mental health, physical health, and social interactions are benefits of in-person learning that cannot be completely ignored.
“I was very excited when I read Webb’s recent letter about the reopening of school because it was way more positive than I expected,” Emma Holliday (‘22) said. “I think Webb has a great plan and that we are lucky to have people who are fighting for us to be back on campus. If there is a chance to go back, you will definitely see me there! For me, I have to be cautious because my great grandma lives with my family, but I think me and my family will feel safe with all of Webb’s precautions. I am also very excited about the study groups because it will be great to be back on campus with my peers.”
Although a full-scale return to a bustling Fawcett Library and busy Hooper Student Center is unrealistic, we can still consider a return to in-person learning by some degree: on-campus study groups.
On-campus study groups offer a plethora of benefits. Primarily, there is the aspect of social interaction and engaging with people beyond the computer screen.
“I would go back to Webb if it opens in April so long as it is safe. Hopefully, COVID-19 cases will significantly drop as the vaccine is distributed. Because I live so close to campus, there are not any factors besides concern for my family’s health that would determine whether I return to campus,” Josephine Burdekin (‘22) said. “I think that the on-campus study groups will be a great opportunity. Studying on campus with a group of friends would make life somewhat normal again. Any opportunity to be back on campus is great!”
Indeed, those feelings are backed by research. A study by Professor Karl Alexander from Johns Hopkins University reports that the COVID crisis has produced a phenomenon known as the “COVID slide,” where students are losing as much as a year of progress due to the circumstances and pandemic. Certainly, a return to campus through any means would help alleviate this problem. Although learning is still virtual, the Webb dorms offer a community where discussion with peers is right next door, fostering a community of both mental and physical support while minding safety. Furthermore, if the situation betters, these on-campus study groups offer a quick remainder of what a post-COVID educational environment would look like.
“I think that on-campus study groups are a smart way for individuals to socialize without anything affecting their academic schedule. Additionally, I think that these study groups are a great segue to in-person learning. Currently, many Webb students feel disconnected from their classmates and are reminiscing about past Webb memories that emulate genuine happiness,” Allison Paik (‘22) said. “Therefore, I think bringing the Webb community together, safely, should be the upmost priority. I think study groups are a great alternative to on-campus learning because it focuses on uniting students rather than interrupting their schedules and forcing them to adjust to in-person academics in a short time period.”
Indeed, many students desire that return to normality. However, students do understand the situation, and we cannot throw caution to the wind in such a pandemic.
“Personally, I haven’t decided if I would go back to Webb in April if campus opens back up,” Iris Chiu (‘21) said. “We still don’t know a lot about how the situation would look like by then, including vaccinations, personal scheduling, and local case numbers. The on-campus study groups seems like a good start, but again things would be dependent on the situation at that time.”
Freshmen especially want semblance of a return to campus. The first year of high school is exciting and the start of a new chapter. As freshmen, the online experience is incomparable to the one on campus.
“I would definitely go on campus if it opens in April, since I find in person learning a lot more engaging and fun. Of course, it would be best if everyone adheres to safety guidelines by wearing a mask and stays 6ft apart,” Cathy Hou (‘24) said. “Regarding the on-campus study group, I am very excited and will definitely attend them! Personally, I find working with peers to be a lot more interesting and productive.”
“Yes, I would go back to Webb if it does open in April,” Izzy Kim (‘24) said. “I think LA County’s COVID cases would really need to go down in terms of numbers if we would even reconsider opening up for international students. Also, if we can all get vaccinated before then that would be really great because it would be safer for the general community of Webb. In regards to quarantine, it would probably be a good idea to have everyone follow a two-week quarantine prior to coming to Webb just for additional safety measures.”
It has been almost a year since sophomores and upperclassmen last stepped on campus, knowing that they could interact with friends and faculty members without having to worry about safety issues; for freshmen, it has been almost an equally long time of living every aspect of high school life online. Therefore, a return to campus—a return to the high school normality that we have long missed—cannot wait any longer.
Although it is many students’ hope that life could soon return to a pre-COVID-19 mode, it seems like April is still not a good time for many to go back to the beloved campus and normal high school life. There are chances that campus could open for boarding students after spring break, but many students, boarding and day students alike, indicate reluctancy to return to campus for various reasons, ranging from travel restrictions to the complicated process.
Out of all the reasons against returning, safety concerns remain a huge one and continue to draw students back from a successful return. Even after the case rate in our county drops to a level that makes reopening possible, it is unclear whether the safety protocols would eradicate the chances of COVID-19 infections without vaccination available. Many schools that reopened last fall, many experienced a drastic rise in COVID-19 cases, a situation that jeopardized the health of students, faculty, and staff.
“I think it really depends [if I will go back],” Carly Granda (‘21) said. “The situation and circumstances we are in are really unpredictable. So, I think I will not be able to make a decision until April comes along. I’d say the most important factor for me is safety. Though I would love to be on campus with my friends for my senior year, I don’t want to risk the health of my parents or family members.”
Aside from safety concerns, travel restrictions act as a huge obstacle for international students. As of February 3rd, 2021, international travelers from China are still subject to quarantine requirements and have to stay in a third nation for 14 days before travelling to the United States. The exhausting journeys across the ocean render a return to campus very unappealing to the majority of international Webb students.
“I don’t want to go back because it is still unclear whether or not President Biden will remove travel restriction to the United States after Spring Break,” said Tony Gao (‘22), an international student from China. “I also don’t want to stay in another country for at least 14 days before returning to the US.”
If school opens in April, it means that international students would need to travel back and forth in two months, which can be very tiring and confusing.
“I don’t think I would go back in April,” said Anh Le (‘21), an international student from Vietnam. “Since there will only be about two months of school left, I don’t think it’s worth the hassle—it’s very difficult to book a flight now and I will have to quarantine when I come home for the summer. For me, the determining factors are flight availability, safety, and whether I’ll have to quarantine.”
As much as students want to go back, the timing just does not seem right.
“Personally, even if School opens on April, I do not think I will be going back,” said Simon Kang (‘21), an international student from South Korea. “Going back to school would be great, since I could meet my friends and teachers and move away from online learning. However, April is only a month away from summer break. This means that once summer break starts, I have to clear out our rooms again, and I have to travel back to Korea again. It just seems like too much work.”
To students, many things remain uncertain and unknown, and they are well aware that a return to campus does not promise a pre-COVID-19 life—one with tremendous amounts of freedom presented to students.
“If Webb does open up in the spring under its certain conditions, I would still stay in China,” said Roy Zhang (‘22), an international student from China. “This is determined by a lot of factors: is vaccine widespread in the US? Is Webb able to return to its ‘normal’ environment and campus life? And will I be able to have a better social experience in SoCal, which is still deeply connected to the functionality of vaccines in the US. Another reason is that if I do go on campus in April, it won’t be long before I have to fly back home in early June, which would be a rush and a risk due to relative policies of China and US.”
Before March of 2020, students could walk or jog with friends to the Village, travel to Santa Monica on the weekends, or sign up for Target runs or venture around Claremont. With the pandemic, however, there is no chance of a normal high school life coming back—even with Webb’s reopening. For boarding students, the necessary safety protocols and restrictions seem to take away the freedom that they always enjoyed back on campus. If going back means giving up the privileges as boarders, staying at home and continuing online learning are a more preferable option.
“Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be going back to Webb this year for multiple reasons, the most important reason being that I refuse to play tennis in a mask,” said Mariia Lykhtar (‘22), an international student from Spain. “I also know that there will be necessary restrictions taken due to COVID, and I would rather stay at home where I have more freedom. Although I understand that the study groups have been formed for the safety of the students, I would rather continue a somewhat normal lifestyle at home than be restricted to a select group.”
After doing online learning for almost a year now, the adjustment back to in-person learning can be strenuous for many. Moreover, students are reluctant to renounce the benefits presented by online learning, such as precious time with family (especially for boarding students) and unprecedented schedule flexibility.
“Quite honestly, even if school were to reopen, I wouldn’t be sure if I would go back to school,” said Chris Chung (‘22), a local boarding student. “While I am at home, I’m able to stay with family which isn’t really easy when I’m a boarder. Additionally, the hassle in moving back to school outweighs the merits of going back to school for two months. While it would be nice to see friends in person and have in person classes, not everyone would be there, and there are also worries that I have regarding the ongoing virus.”
Perfectly aware of the bright sides to returning to campus, students choose to prioritize stability and certainty over the complicated journey back to campus, although doing so also means losing many precious aspects of high school life.
“I do not think I would return to Webb in April because it would be difficult to adjust to in-person learning for only a couple of months,” said Allison Paik (‘22). “Although it is crucial to interact with peers and start to return to a normal life, I think that the end of the year academics — finals and AP exams — alongside the adjustment to on campus learning will only contribute to the stress that students face.”
Throughout the past year of online learning, both students and faculty members have had to forego many things that they normally took for granted. Although going back to Webb can potentially recover the in-person connections that we have lost, many Webb students have to make the difficult decision to remain online for at least the rest of the school year. Nevertheless, there is still hope that one day the pros of returning would outweigh the cons, and students can soon reunite with one another on the beautiful campus that has been missed.