EDITOR’S NOTE: A version of this article was originally published by Youth Communications and is reposted here with permission. YC is a nonprofit publisher of teen-written stories and curriculum to help educators strengthen the social and emotional skills of youth.
After one year of online learning in eighth grade, I chose blended learning for my freshman year at Beacon High School in New York City. For one day a week, I would be learning in-person, and the rest of the week my classes were held remotely. Eventually, I learned that it didn’t really make sense to go in at all, since my teachers would have to teach through Zoom for the other students that were still taking the classes online.
But when I began my sophomore year in September, I finally went back to school full-time. My principal stood at the entrance of the building each morning to welcome us, and he seemed happy to be there. When I returned, I had a somewhat harder time getting to know my fellow students, and at times felt that it was hard to connect to my peers. I had to fight the urge to pull down my mask when socializing.
I thought I wasn’t making friends quickly enough in high school, and I wondered if masks contributed to that. Eventually, I met more people once I joined extracurricular activities, like the Step Club, the Black Student Union, and the Guitar Lessons Club. It was occasionally annoying to be masked during all of these activities—like when I wanted to express emotions or even just breathe after a hard workout. During lunch, which was the only time during the day that school felt truly normal, we were able to pull down our masks to eat and I made a few more friends.
But in March 2022, more than halfway through my sophomore year, New York City Mayor Eric Adams lifted the mask mandate in all public schools. I never imagined that day would come. Even though masks had felt like such a burden, when I heard the news, I was both happy and worried.
I was even more surprised when controversy engulfed my school shortly after the mayor’s announcement. My principal was criticized for allegedly trying to pressure mask-wearing in class. “And while teachers cannot mandate a mask in their classroom, they may request that students wear one as many of us have vulnerable ones at home,” he wrote in a letter shortly after the mask mandate was lifted. The incident was amplified by the New York Post.
I saw the principal’s point, but it still felt like our choice was being taken away. He was hired to replace the school’s founding principal in September 2022 when we were learning online, and it must have been difficult for him to try to understand and protect his students, his staff, and their loved ones during a pandemic, only to be attacked in the media.
I had thought about this a lot, and was still worried that regressions in safety precautions could lead to increased rates of Covid cases. Even after the mandate was lifted, I wore my mask when taking the subway and in class, as did fifty percent or more of students at my school.
There was only one time when a teacher brought up masking. When my math teacher informed us that a new Covid variant was spiking in New York—particularly in Manhattan, where my school is located—he said that he wasn’t forcing us to wear masks, but suggested that we should consider the choice. The criticism of my principal eventually died down, and much of the school community still respects him.
At the end of the day, my biggest fear was that I’d have to relive the nightmare that began in March 2020. When the schools shut down, I didn’t know if we would ever return. I would hate to go through that horrible phase of the pandemic again, and that’s why I keep my mask on.