Second First Day


Chris Shields, Head Editor

Monday March 15th, 2021 was a big day for us all. After exactly 365 days since the closure of schools in the state of Montana (March 16th, 2020), Helena High School students returned to a long-awaited and much anticipated normal learning environment. After much debate, deliberation, and delicate decision making, the school board decided it was safe to allow kids to return to full inperson learning for four days a week. With plexiglass shields in place and air purifiers in every room to protect our health, we were told we could finally go back to normal with a few precautions in place. 

After experiencing this return to normalcy firsthand, here’s what I think worked on Monday as well as what I think needs some improvement. 

What worked: 

For many of us, we haven’t been able to physically see the other half of the school since closure last year, so this return to a more normalized environment reunited us with people we’ve missed. It was great to see, interact with, and catch up with friends we haven’t been around in so long. 

In addition to being able to see our peers, the shift to Phase 2 proved helpful to some programs within the school. The band classes, for example, have been granted the ability to finally pursue a live performance for the first time all year. After working this whole year on practicing and preparing pieces of music, it’s finally paying off for Mr. Hollow’s classes who will get to showcase their abilities on Tuesday March 23rd. 

General spirits seem to be lifted among the kids at Helena High with things finally beginning to feel normal for the first time in so long. Although most people grumble and gripe about school, deep down I think they really enjoy being “out and about” in the real world and getting to interact with their classmates and teachers in a more standard way. 

For the most part, it seems like most kids are obeying the mask mandate still present within the school and teachers seem to be following the proper safety precautions required of them. These things are vital for a safe learning environment and if continued, will allow us to remain in this phase of schooling. 

What did not work: 

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of all the confusion that occurred on Monday was lunchtime. This short break period seemed to be one big chaotic mess, and everyone had difference ideas on what we were supposed to be doing. When the bell rang for lunch, everyone got up and left the classroom, much to my confusion. 

I, like many of my peers, was under the impression that we were to remain in our fourth period classrooms for lunch as usual, as stated by an email sent to parents. Other students that I have talked to say their understanding of lunch was that A Day kids would get to leave their fourth period rooms for lunch on A Days and B Day kids would get to leave on B Days, meaning that depending on the day, roughly half the kids would stay put during lunch. 

Others claim to have heard that it was an open-campus free-for-all like lunchtime used to be before the pandemic where students could stay in their rooms, relocate to other rooms, eat wherever they please in the school, or leave school all together. No one seems to really know what’s going on which has resulted in absolute pandemonium. 

From my observations, there were kids sitting on the floors in the halls, kids staying put in their rooms, kids playing tag in classrooms, and groups of mask-less acquaintances sitting with one another in the beds of trucks in the school parking lot. If this continues without closer supervision or enforced guidelines, we will likely be looking at a spike in school Covid case numbers.  

Most, classrooms only have one box of wet wipes or a single roll of paper towels and bottle of disinfectant spray. At the end of class, kids must gather around these cleaning products, making social distancing impossible. 

As expected, the hallways are an absolute nightmare. While most students seem to be following “traffic flow” directions as indicated by the floor markers, there is a large number who do not, which makes things even more difficult for those who do. In particular, staircases are abysmally overcrowded.  

On top of that, things are a little too close for comfort within the classrooms themselves. The desks in most rooms are dangerously close to one another with only a plexiglass shield to divide them (in most cases.) Maneuvering around these dividers requires students to come in proximity with one another just to move throughout the room.  

We knew things were going to be chaotic once the announcement of a phase shift was made, and to no one’s surprise, that’s exactly the case. We will find out soon whether the desperation to progress forward in our learning situation was reasonable. 

Things will likely change as the year continuesHopefully these problems will be addressed and solved.