School Is Not Just a Building

We have experienced so many changes, difficulties, and losses these past few months. Our resilience has been tested and our sense of community has been nearly overthrown many times. Overnight, our country changed from being one of the best places in the world to a war zone with an invisible enemy. Entering March, we were in school 5 days a week. On Fridays and Saturdays, we would feel free and excited for a weekend of fun. Some activities included sports, parties, relaxing, and spending time with family and friends. On Sunday nights, we would prepare for another week similar to the one before. Whether we realized it or not, every single one of us were the luckiest people alive. 

At the beginning of March, we were told that the school building was going to be closed for a few days due to a new virus. Everyone was a little excited to be off, it felt like a free vacation. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. Smiles and optimism slowly turned into sadness and unfulfillment. Our freedom was starting to be taken away by a virus. The most promising and consistent event in our lives was school, and even that was being compromised little by little. What we have learned over these past months is that school is not just a building, it is the core of our social, educational, and emotional development. 

We had to take what was given to us, which was remote learning. Remote learning was a new phrase in our vocabulary and whether we liked it or not, we had to understand the meaning quickly. This phrase meant we didn’t go to the school building. No sitting at desks and laughing together when someone made a funny comment. No helping the teachers with the smart board and no watching the clock for lunch time when we could eat with our friends. Remote learning meant sitting in our pajamas at our desk, staring at a computer screen, hoping our teachers would schedule a Google Meet every second of the day. This experience was definitely new and affected everyone. With the help of the East Williston staff, we were able to receive some type of normalcy that would help us get excited to start another school day! We finished the school year with no idea as to what was going to happen next. 

All summer we knew the East Williston staff was working every day to get us back into the school building, where all of us wanted to be. Despite the constant change and unknowns, we were finally told that the students in our district were going  to be attending school in the building 5 days a week. This news made me explode with joy and feel like we were finally moving on from this awful war. We were finally going to be able to interact with our peers and participate in in-person learning. Although I was so excited, I certainly had a few concerns including wearing masks the entire day and having school feel extremely different. Leading up to the first day of school, many Google Meets were held and letters were sent describing the guidelines that needed to be followed in order to attend school and ensure safety. The night before school started, I was freaking out. I was an 8th grader who had never stepped foot in Wheatley as a student before, and had never experienced the coronavirus before. I was trying to prepare myself for school to feel different, for classes to feel strange, and conversations to feel unnatural.  On the first day of school, as I stepped through the doors, I immediately felt a sense of community and normalcy, even though I was starting at a brand new school in unprecedented times. The Wheatley staff made both the transition from Willets Road to Wheatley and traditional school to “new” school seamless. 

As I saw everyone in person with masks on, I didn’t see their masks. I saw them physically standing in front of me with no computer screen as a barrier. The halls were lined with tape to remind us to stay to one side and always remain 6 feet apart. I thought this was very smart because it contained all of the traffic to each side. The Wheatley staff did an amazing job keeping normal school day rituals while also following the CDC guidelines and making everyone in the building feel safe. Each desk was 6 feet apart, but 6 feet is better than 6 miles. The teachers, monitors, custodial staff, principals, administrators, and everyone else experiencing this milestone thought of everything that would make students feel comfortable. We were allowed to take mask breaks in the courtyard and were encouraged to wipe down our desks and apply hand sanitizer. School didn’t feel like a war zone or an unfamiliar building. It felt like school and normalcy. It felt like a big piece of optimism that was helping put the puzzle together. 

The Wheatley staff consistently reminded us that we are one community and are all in this together. If we continue to respect one another and stay strong, we will all come out of this together. We just have to continue to believe there is light at the end of the tunnel and a life we once knew will be given back to us, hopefully very soon. I would like to take this opportunity to give a huge thank you and socially distant hug to Dr. Kanas, Dr. Gately, Dr. Feeney, Dr. Klapper, and the rest of Wheatley’s administration and staff for helping us realize, once again, “after every storm, there is a rainbow.” 

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