Student Story: Middle And High School Students Express Concerns About Returning To In-Person Classes In September

By: Thomas E. Edmund, Jr., Special to Follow South Jersey

NATIONAL PARK, N.J. — Back in mid-March, as per Executive Orders 104 and 107, Governor Phil Murphy called for the immediate closure of all public, private, and religious learning institutions across the state because of COVID-19. Ever since then, local schools have had to resort to virtual learning as an alternative to in-person instruction and now amid an unorthodox summer, many students are undoubtedly concerned about returning to live classes in the fall.

Juliana Morris will be going into the sixth grade at Nehaunsey Middle School in Gibbstown. She shared how she was really worried about going back to school as acknowledging the number of students that would be present at the school, and how factors like that could cause an inadequacy of maintaining social distancing guidelines.

Knowing the state-mandated guidance for the re-opening of schools, Morris observed that even though she misses seeing her friends in-person, it often may prove to be a challenge adhering to the safety measures. “I really don’t think everyone is going to be able to handle wearing a mask for seven hours a day. How are we supposed to eat if we have to wear our masks, and socially distance in the cafeteria? There are too many kids in the school to be able to do this,’’ she remarked.

The state guidelines noted that students who have pre-existing medical conditions have the option to stay home. “I think it’s fair that those with medical conditions should have the option to stay home because, with them having a medical condition, they are at a higher risk for getting the COVID-19 virus,” Morris said.

Realizing the capacities and limitations of virtual learning, she also mentioned that she felt that live instruction at schools would be more helpful for everyone, because if students like her need help, the teacher is right there to be of assistance. At home, she strongly affirmed, it is much harder to understand the lessons as parents do not fully understand the newer ways of teaching.

As a resident of West Deptford, Caleb Jackson will be going into the eighth grade at the local middle school. Jackson stated that he is unsure how he feels about the return to school simply because West Deptford Middle School has not provided its students enough details on returning back to school: “I feel like if we had a better understanding of what to look forward to then we could be more prepared,” he said.

Imagining that wearing masks all day would be an overall challenge for young students, Jackson said that he also thought that this protective measure would be uncomfortable for some of his peers. On the matter of virtual learning, Jackson commented, “I didn’t like virtual learning too much. All kids are different. I think I’d just rather be in school then keep swapping back and forth.” 

Scott Watts will be a junior at Gateway Regional High School for the 2020-21 academic school year. Watts expressed his general concerns about returning to school because while he does enjoy the physical school environment, he made it quite clear that there are still specific adjustments that need to be addressed and dealt with for the safe return for both faculty and students of the small Woodbury Heights school.

During a time like this, many people have put health and safety as the number one priority and as Watts mentioned, the biggest worry is not having to follow these new state-mandated requirements, but to keep everyone safe and healthy rather than sick.

Watts presumed that if students are at risk, then it would probably be the best option for them to consider remote learning from home. Watts said that he would feel bad to make a person go through this until they could return safely, but he thinks that it is important to remain responsible and put personal safety above others. As for hybrid learning, Watts said it could be an acceptable adjustment compared to either full on in-person learning or remote learning.

Gia, a senior at the Cherry Hill School District said she understood that this school year may not be like any other. She said she fears that twelfth grade milestones such as prom, senior trip, and graduation may have to be postponed or cancelled due to the coronavirus.

For her, following the New Jersey coronavirus guidelines will most likely prove to be impossible for many students, as she believes very few students will abide by the rules of having to wear face coverings and remain socially distant with others, when feasible. Gia likes the idea of combining in-person instruction with virtual lessons that she said this plan will allow students to stay safe while also giving them opportunities to stay in school.

Thomas E. Edmund, Jr., “TJ”, is a 2020 graduate of Gateway Regional High School in Woodbury Heights, NJ and a former intern at He will be attending Rowan College of Southern New Jersey to begin his quest to become a journalist. 

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