By Anna Popnikolova

I suppose there comes a time when we have to weigh the risk of getting sick and potentially infecting one’s family with the prospect of actually seeing real people again. I suppose that time comes sooner than I’d like it to, for me. 

I started out the 2020-2021 school year with a strong opinion on returning to school—COVID is too life-threatening and too widespread for any in-person return to be safe at all. I managed to maintain that attitude for almost four months before I started seriously missing a normal classroom environment. I miss the teacher having to quiet the class a million different times. Now, most teachers have to beg us just to elicit a one-word response to their question. I miss the inside jokes of a classroom—I miss laughing as a group, everyone laughing at the same thing, instead of laughing behind the screen, alone. I miss people’s facial expressions because you can always tell just how confused and lost they are with the classwork material— and how entertaining it is to watch a completely clueless student try to dance around the question being asked. The moments after the teacher passes out a test, and you can see everyone’s worry written through their eyes as they flip the first page open. I miss small groups- not silent, awkward breakout rooms, I miss small groups and not getting the work done because you’re too lost in conversation or laughter. 

I even miss the things I didn’t exactly like. I miss having to wake up far too early—I miss getting dressed every morning. I miss getting ready… not to sit in front of a screen, but getting ready for people to actually see me. I miss leaving my house. I miss having a least-favorite class, I miss dreading PE, I miss waiting to go home. I miss how scary it is to walk into a brand-new building for the first time. I miss that because I didn’t get to do it.

While my opinion remains the same – in-person school is extremely risky, kids and teachers are getting sick from being in school around the world, it’s a dangerous thing and the nation isn’t ready for such a large-scale reopening, with thousands of people dying every day—I’ve realized that it’s just a sacrifice. Just another sacrifice. Like everything else. Yes, it’s a health hazard, people at-risk are susceptible. People who aren’t at-risk are also susceptible. Everyone can get the virus and no one can 100% accurately predict an outcome. It’s essentially a dice roll—how each individual will experience the virus. So yeah, nothing right now is “for sure.” 

But what I’ve started to think more and more, recently, is that nothing is ever for sure. You never completely know what is going to happen in the future. Everything in life is a risk, to some degree, right? Entering the school building in a “normal” year is a risk—common cold, flu, shingles, scabies, stomach flu, etc. A million life-threatening things can happen when a child goes to school, things no one wants to think about, things I don’t want to list. But they are possible, always. So, every time a kid walks through those school building doors, they are risking their lives, always to some degree. be it high or low, just to go to school. The same thing applies to, well, everything else, too. Leaving your house; driving a car; riding a car; riding a bike; going on a walk; eating restaurant food; cooking food; going on an airplane, a bus, a train, a boat—the list goes on forever. Every single moment we are alive, moving, doing anything and everything we do in our everyday lives, a hundred things could go wrong. At any given moment. 

And I pose myself the question—is this the same as all those other dangers of the world? Under what circumstances and to what magnitude are we all willing to face those odds, today or ever? Am I willing to roll a dice and let it decide the entire course of the future… of my life? Just to go to school? I suppose it isn’t as dramatic as I am making it seem. Thousands of kids are going to school just fine, every day. Shall I join them—join them and become a hypocrite—or should I remain where I am, and just hang on to the hope that it will all be over soon? 

And I wonder what will happen if it never ends.

I think, maybe, I’d like to go to school. I wouldn’t mind wearing a mask, I wouldn’t mind sanitizing my hands, even though my skin dries out to a painful extent. I wouldn’t mind being around people. I wouldn’t even mind the risk of getting sick. And I understand why so many kids go to school despite the risk. The solitude of online school is enough to drive any perfectly sane, straight-A student absolutely mad.

Because no matter how lovely it is to sleep through your first period classes, go to school from your bed, be able to get up and walk away from “school” at any given moment- sometimes you just miss the people. And even with all of the unrestricted snacks and school-from-bed days Cohort D students like me have, it gets difficult to deny the need for social interaction sometimes.

And those are the times in which I ask myself… is it worth the risk?

I could write a million arguments here—debate it back and forth, worth it, not worth it. I’ve weighed the pros and cons a million times. But, what it all boils down to in the end is that it’s up to the individual. I can’t convince anyone to do one or the other, I can’t even convince myself, but in the end, it is a decision that everyone needs to make on their own. Everyone possesses their personal values—different things which are important to them and their families. And who am I to tell you what is important to you?

So, all I can really say is, be safe, whatever you decide or have decided to do. I wish everyone the best of luck, and be careful. 

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