I was exiting the locker room into PE class — donning the same baggy shorts and oversized shirt combo as my peers — when my PE teacher’s whistle thundered across the room, silencing our conversations and summoning us to the center of the gym. It was obvious that she had an announcement for us. What was entirely unclear was that it would be the last time we heard the piercing noise of her whistle.
I don’t remember exactly what she said — something about washing our hands often and avoiding unnecessary contact with our classmates. She told us there was a virus sweeping across different parts of the world, which we already knew. There was some tension among our classmates, but our teacher assured us we shouldn’t be worried as long as we were careful. She added that there was a chance that school might close down for one or two weeks.
That did it for our class. No school? For two whole weeks? In nearly every student’s mind it was two weeks of no homework, no classwork — just chilling. In my mind, an unexpected holiday in the middle of March, when school was nearing the toughest stretch, sounded amazing. I mean, who wouldn’t want that?
I so clearly remember joking around with my friends about how much fun we were going to have with no school. Not even one of us was concerned about anything else my teacher said — about the virus, about the precautions, nothing. For us, that two-week vacation was all that mattered.
The rest of that school day progressed as usual. There were some murmurs here and there about the virus, about how someone’s neighbor might have it and about how school could be closing.
Generally unconcerned, we all ate lunch with our friends and went to our classes, hoping that we wouldn’t have to listen to our teachers drone on about something for the next two weeks. And just like that, the school day was over.
Just as I was heading home, one of my friends ran up to me and practically yelled, “My science teacher just said school is canceled for the next two weeks!”
An email blast from the school confirmed the news we’d been hoping for all day: “School will be transitioning to an online format for the next two weeks, or until it is safe to return.”
But we all just saw BREAK! We didn’t know at that time that the last part of that message was probably the most important one: “Until it was safe to return.”
More than a year later, my school career still unfolds over Zoom. It’s too early — and the conditions too concerning — to tell if the upcoming year holds anything different.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see the misguided hope that defined March 13: hope that school would shut down. Now, we only hope to return as soon as possible.
Besides hanging out with friends in between classes or during lunch, along with all the annual events our school hosts, I also miss all the small memories I made during passing periods or talking with the student next to me in class. Sitting in front of the computer, muted and waiting to press the “Leave Meeting” button, just doesn’t hold the same effect as being in an actual classroom surrounded by our peers. From school dances and homecoming to cramming math homework the period before it’s due, in-person school possesses a special charm that online classes fail to replicate.
It seems strange to remember a time when I simply longed for a break from school. All I long for now is to hear my PE teacher’s whistle one more time.