By Helen Hertz '24
For the past two months I’ve watched as my classmates have become comfortable enough to take off their masks, and go back to “normal,” as so many people like to say.
But what is normal anymore?
This might seem like a silly question, because of course “normal” is a world where people don’t cover half their faces, or avoid close contact, or create events around certain sets of rules. “Normal” isn’t even being entirely cautious with our health.
So I guess with that out of the way, my next question is; How does one return to a “normal” they never knew in the first place?
All of the adults I’ve spoken to lately have begun to encourage me to begin my “teen experience” now that COVID seems to have hit a slow patch. What the “teen experience” is to them I’m sure is much different than the modern “teen experience”, but nonetheless, how can I live a life that seems so different from the one I’ve lived for two years of my life?
I find a strange comfort in wearing a mask. I like the fact that people are more cautious with their health. I like that I’ve barely gotten sick over the past two years.
There are so many things I’ve liked about my lifestyle since March 2020, and I’m not sure how jumping off the deep end into a post-COVID world will sit with me.
I’m not going to throw statistics in your face about COVID’s effects on teenagers’ mental health, because as much as I’d like to, I’d like this to feel more like an honest discussion about what our futures look like than spewing information to prove a point.
Because adjustments are hard. Especially complete changes to one’s lifestyle.
I go to the grocery store now and I’m the only one wearing a mask anymore, I still turn down invitations to hangout with my friends because I don’t want to be in packed public spaces, and I still make an effort to keep my circle small, just in case one of them gets COVID.
I’ve gotten so used to doing these things that I look at pictures of myself in school from two years ago, and I don’t even remember what my “normal” life was like.
I know people are eager to live their lives. I know students are excited to have a normal prom, a normal graduation, and a normal summer. But maybe there is a way we can live those experiences to the fullest without becoming overwhelmed by a sudden surge of “normal.”
This transition period from “COVID life” to “after COVID life” isn’t going to be easy.
So I’ve created a list of things I suggest we as a community try and do, to be a little more careful with ourselves, as we adjust to a “normal” we haven’t lived for a while.
First, let’s try to be more sensitive to people who are going through the adjustment process.
I’ve been seeing a lot of pressure on students lately to completely dive into school-wide events, assemblies, and ceremonies. We’ve previously had a lot of Zoom options, but as of late the general consensus seems to be to lead everyone directly back into the large crowded rooms that are full of people.
Going from a 20 student classroom for assembly, to the entire upper school in the auditorium can be daunting. In being more sensitive to those who would like to slowly move their way to the auditorium, keeping Zoom in at least one classroom a morning can be a huge help.
Secondly, we as a community should both try to understand students who continue to wear masks, as well as be understanding of students who have chosen not to wear masks.
I’ve been hearing quite a bit of cross talk about students and their mask wearing status, when the truth is, we have no idea why they either don’t wear a mask, or still wear a mask.
Students who don’t wear masks might finally feel comfortable enough to not wear one to school. Students who still wear masks to school might have a reason to wear one we don’t know about, an elderly relative to protect, a sickly family member or friend whose immune system is weak, or they might just prefer to wear one for their own health.
We are a mask optional school. We should be comfortable with mask wearers, and non-mask wearers.
Last but not least, we should understand that when students do adjust to “normal”, it doesn’t mean they will necessarily possess the energetic, outgoing, and extroverted “North Cross” attitude that people have come to expect from the students.
With all this talk about “going back to normal”, I think we forget that “normal” looks different for everyone. One kid’s normal could be a quiet day, and another’s could be an energy-packed, high strung, chaotic day.
We need to expect and cater to both. As a school it is our job to make sure all students feel welcome, regardless of what their “normal” is.
We aren’t a community without different people. We aren’t a community without different opinions. Therefore, we shouldn’t be a school without options.