One Year Later

Cameron Yuen-Shore, Director of Special Projects
Last week, in a middle school faculty meeting, thanks to the wonderful algorithms of Google, Dr. Tarle shared a “suggested memory” photo to the projector. The picture showed the facilities team setting up a middle school classroom for the first day on campus in the 2020-2021 school year. Each desk was placed 6 feet away from the next, with a Brandeis logo prominently displayed on each bottle of hand sanitizer, and enough TVs positioned about the classroom to make the Chase Center blush. With the momentum of the 2021-2022 school year fully established, and day-to-day school routines becoming second nature, it was a rare moment for the adults to reflect on how exactly one year ago the middle school returned to in-person learning. 

I know the vast majority of you print out each edition of Hashavua, annotate and analyze it like there’s an upcoming quiz that determines your midterm grade, and diligently file it away in an organized library at home. But for the small percentage of Brandeis families that do not consume the weekly newsletter that way, you can reminisce on that week with this edition of Hashavua from exactly 365 days ago! Never one to give up on a gimmick too early, I asked middle schoolers to reflect on their experience, one year after their return to in person school. 

I asked students three questions in a survey. Here is a brief selection of their responses:

What was the hardest part about coming back to in-person school one year ago?

"I never really realized how busy an in-person school day was, so it took me a while to adjust to the rush.” 
“Having some kids on zoom and some in person” 
“Not being in the same class with my friends” 

What was the most exciting part about coming back to school in person one year ago? 

“I had never met some of my teachers in person” 
“Getting to see my friends not as zoom boxes in class” 
“I wasn’t in the same exact place all day” 
“My friends” x 100

What's one thing about in person school over the last year that's gotten easier and one thing that's gotten harder?

“Keeping up with the work got easier, waking up earlier has gotten harder” 
“So much easier to ask a question in class now than when we first came back” 
“Way better going from class to class. I feel like a real middle schooler”
“I’m better at keeping my mask on, which is frustrating, because I really just want to take it off”
“I used to chill so much I was bored, now with school and sports and friends, it’s harder to rest” 

Finally, with the upcoming holiday, I asked students about one aspect of in-person Brandeis they’re thankful for. 

“I am thankful for all the great teachers and friends”
“The whole cleaning team”
“Being able to talk to my friends. That’s what actually brings us closer”
“Everyone is so supportive of who you are”
“Coaches and teammates”
“We got to choose our electives”
“Teachers are always checking in with me to see if I understand the assignment” 
“I feel like a normal 8th grader, my classes are all over, I’m always running around, usually late. It’s normal” 

There are a lot of great sentiments to reflect upon: 
  • Knowing how tall all your students are on the first day of school is something I’ll never take for granted. 
  • It’s still unbelievable to me that the faculty pulled off hybrid teaching last year. Shuffling the groupings 4 or 5 times throughout the week for classes, advisory, electives, and PE really is a foundational piece of middle school. 
  • A Brandeis eleven-year-old’s interrogation of the culture of busyness is something any New Yorker would be envious of. 

It is that last quote that really gets me though. For so much of the last eighteen months adults and students have been searching for normal. Because of its frenetic and dynamic nature, middle school has never been the most celebrated of places for individuals to feel at equilibrium. Never a linear path, middle school is a roiling cauldron where there is potential to feel safety amidst the chaos, and it’s encouraging to read that students at Brandeis, one year after so much abrupt change, are beginning to experience that once again.