How High School Seniors Are Thinking About Returning To School
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Last week, the Trump administration started a full-court press to try to pressure schools to reopen this fall. But most officials and parents think the decision isn't that easy. They say it still isn't obvious how to get the right balance between health and safety and students' educational and social needs. And students aren't immune from that dilemma. They also want to move forward with their lives. And they're also missing the fun stuff like prom, yearbook and sports. But they're mindful of the risks.
So we've been hearing a lot from administrators and parents. We decided we wanted to hear from students, so we've called a group of rising high school seniors to hear how they're thinking about all this. Aya Hamza is a rising senior at Coral Gables High School in South Florida.
Aya, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
AYA HAMZA: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Madeline Muller is a senior at Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix, Ariz.
Madeline, welcome to you as well.
MADELINE MULLER: Thank you.
MARTIN: And Bronte Roltsch is a senior at McKinney High School in McKinney, Texas, which is just outside of Dallas.
Bronte, it's good to have you with us as well.
BRONTE ROLTSCH: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: So you're all in states that are either currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases or recently had one, so I just wanted to ask to - just to start us off, what's your school plan for returning in the fall? Do you know? Aya, why don't you start?
HAMZA: For sure. So Miami-Dade County Public Schools has sent out two sets of surveys asking parents whether they would want their child to go back to school five days a week, do a hybrid system or not at all. A lot of us, including myself, have put to go back, but it's only conditional if we go into phase two. So the general consensus is that we're not going back to school. And for a lot of students, including myself, we just don't know how it's going to look like in terms of college admissions and getting help from our teachers, too.
MARTIN: What are you weighing here? Like, what are you concerned about?
HAMZA: So I presently would not want to go back. But for a lot of students that I know, a lot of my friends have caught COVID-19, and I have, you know, friends of mine who are now matriculating into college who are considering taking a gap year as well.
MARTIN: Madeline, what about you? What is your school district talking about doing? And how are you thinking about this?
MULLER: So the school district I'm in, PVUSD, has sent out their plan. So we're going to start the school year as we usually do on August 6, but we're going to be totally online until after Labor Day weekend. And then they will try and switch back to regular school. And they don't really have a sort of plan for, like, if it's going to be, like, four days a week or half-days or something like that. They just know we're going to go back to school at that date.
MARTIN: And so what are you thinking about, Madeline? And how - what's this experience been like for you - this whole COVID-19 experience? I take it it's been kind of tough.
MULLER: It's been kind of tough. My parents actually did get COVID-19. Me and my brother, however, tested negative. But we moved out of the house sort of. I went over to my neighbor's house to help take care of their dogs as well as, like, just sort of help take care of my parents from across the street. And my brother lived in his room the whole time while my parents isolated.
I'm the only child in the family who can drive and sort of get stuff for them, so it was kind of, like, everything in that sort of fell on me that, like, my mom or my dad would usually do.
MARTIN: Wow. And they're doing better now.
MULLER: Yeah, they are doing better. They've tested negative. Yes.
MARTIN: Yeah. No, I'm - well I'm certainly glad to hear that. So what are your thoughts about going back in the fall? Would you like to go back in person if you could?
MULLER: I don't honestly think we should be going back for a while because just the amount of people in Arizona who has tested positive. And what I know about the students I go to school with, some people are not going to take it as seriously as others, which could probably lead to more people testing positive and more cases being found in Arizona.
MARTIN: So, Bronte, what about you? First, what's been your experience with this whole situation? And what are your thoughts about going back to school in the fall?
ROLTSCH: For our district, they sent out a series of surveys and asking parents what they would want to do. And what we have settled on as of the other day was that the first three weeks are going to be completely online, and then they're going to figure it out from there. So a lot of it is up in the air. But we do know that we are going back to school in a sense. But we don't know how long it's going to be online.
MARTIN: What - yeah, what do you feel about - I mean, what's this experience been like for you? And how do you feel about that - where they've landed so far?
ROLTSCH: I think that we should be online. My family has two high schoolers. I'm going to be a senior, and my brother is going to be a freshman. And then we have a first grader, and we have a preschooler, both of which will not wear masks if they had to go back to school. And so doing online is best because we can keep them safe while still giving them an education.
MARTIN: So, Bronte, for you, do I have it right that both of your parents are essential, so they had to keep working?
ROLTSCH: Yes, they did.
MARTIN: So what - who was watching the younger kids? That was you.
ROLTSCH: Yes. During the day, when my mom was at work, I watched the kids. I did their school with them, and I had to try and teach my brother how to read. And, yeah, it's been hard. But trying to get them what they need in a day like physical activity, learning why - it was a big change.
MARTIN: But did you have your own work to do, too? How did you manage that?
ROLTSCH: They had time where they didn't have any technology and then time where they did. So I tried to do school in the morning, when they were most alert. And then I did my own school when they were relaxed in the afternoon and got to watch TV.
MARTIN: Wow. So - well, hats off to all of you because basically, you're living the same life that a lot of adults are, right? One of the things that's been really interesting is that there are some states in particular have been really resistant to wearing masks. Like, in the absence of a vaccine, experts are telling us that wearing a mask and, obviously, social distancing is really our only real weapon right now to contain the spread of this virus.
And I just have to say that the parts of the country where people seem most resistant are where you all live. What are you hearing? I mean, do you have any friends who are refusing to wear masks? And what do they say?
HAMZA: I'm for it, at least. I think the pandemic has been very heavily politicized. Fortunately, a lot of people have been trying to wear masks as most public spaces enforce them. But it's really a mix. Like, one day, I'll go out and see people wearing masks, which a majority do. And then other times, people are walking, you know, unhampered, not wearing them.
I have a friend who, you know, has been going out, hasn't been wearing a mask, and her family just caught - all of them have caught corona. So unfortunately, I think the biggest reason for people not to wear a mask has been politically motivated.
MARTIN: Madeline, what about you? I mean, obviously, this really hits close to home for you literally because both of your parents did contract COVID, even though they have gotten better. But what's the situation where you are?
MULLER: So where I am, it's Arizona, so (laughter) it's usually very hot here. So there is a mandate for everyone to wear a mask when you're inside a business here. But, like, on social media of people in my area, I've seen people being, like, if you don't want to wear one, don't wear one. And then if you do want to wear one, wear one. I agree that it is being a bit politicized to be sort of as, you support this side, or you support this side. And it's not really being based around the science. It's more being based upon who you support.
MARTIN: Bronte, what about you? The mask issue - how is - how's that playing out where you are?
ROLTSCH: Yeah, I have to agree with them. And I have been to the grocery store. And the thing that people do is they'll have their mask on, but they won't put it around their nose. Like, that's their little, like, thing that they do to say that obviously, they don't agree with it. People do not wear them outside. And people have been hanging out in huge groups and being, like, oh, but that's - those are the only people I see. But it's, like, 20, 30 people. So here, it's either people just haven't cared from the start, or they have. And there's no in-between, really.
MARTIN: Can I ask - so I just want to ask each of you, though, does this - has this caused you to have any thoughts about your lives? This has changed everybody's life for the most part. And I just wanted to ask, what has this brought up for you? Like, in between kind of managing all these different responsibilities, life has changed so much that I think it's caused a lot of people to kind of rethink some things. And I just wanted to ask if it's done that for you. And, Aya, do you want to start?
HAMZA: Yeah. So usually on my day to day, I'm very busy. Pre-corona, I would - you know, I run two, three clubs, and so staying after school for that as well as for the news magazine. And I'll usually go to a cafe after school. I really love that type of lifestyle. But I think being in quarantine has also made it so that I can focus a bit more on self-care, just taking the time to preserve, like, my own peace, my own health. And I've, you know, enjoyed that.
But at the same time, an appreciation for life, you know, and the outdoors. A lot of times, at least my parents will be, like, you know, outside isn't going anywhere. But outside did go somewhere. So I don't know whether it'll be a few months or a few years just to take a walk, you know, not having a worry about catching, you know, a killer virus. I'm looking forward to that.
MARTIN: It sounds like a little bit of a silver lining for you. It gave you a little chance to - a bit of a chance to slow down.
What about you, Madeline? Is there anything that - has this caused you to have any sort of thoughts that you hadn't had before?
MULLER: Well, it's kind of - especially with my parents getting corona, it's kind of caused me to think about sort of the responsibility that I'm going to have when I'm older - especially, like, the responsibility that we all have to each other to keep each other safe, like, when we live in communities and when we live in neighborhoods and stuff and sort of realizing, like, what adults do every day and sort of, like, just the responsibility that comes with that.
I also agree with Aya in that it was nice to slow down for a little while. But when my parents caught corona, it was more of, like, oh, all of this has to still keep happening even though, like, my parents are sick. Like, all of this still needs to keep going. And if it stops, for example, then no one's going to be happy, and no one's going to be able to get better. And that's - that was just sort of my realization of, like, just the responsibility that I guess I'm going to have in the future.
MARTIN: Bronte, what about you? Has this experience made you think any thoughts differently than you had before?
ROLTSCH: Yeah. I've been working a lot more on, like, self-care and baking. I redid my room. But more importantly than all of that, I think I've taken a lot of time with my siblings. They're - my sister is 13 years younger than me, and so we don't have a lot in common day to day. But I've spent so much time with them, and I'm so close with them now, and it's just been awesome.
Like, I've seen my family a lot more than I used to, whereas I would normally be at yearbook, or my brother would be at baseball. We're all together at home now. So having time as a family and getting to know each other better has been really good.
MARTIN: As we mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, you know, we're hearing a lot from, like, politicians and school officials and administrators and teachers and teachers' unions. Of course, that's their responsibility. But is there something that you wish your teachers or school leaders - if they were listening to this conversation right now, is there something you would particularly want them to know about how you see this whole situation? Aya, do you want to start?
HAMZA: So for my teachers, I follow them, you know, on their social media and things like that, and they're all doing great and, you know, really trying to uplift the voices, you know, of the students who are very concerned for themself and the families. I - with my dad, who has to work - he's a convenience store owner and, you know, doesn't really have a choice, as that's our only source of income to work.
But as for at the district level, I do think, you know, having two rounds of surveys just for parents - although students can be a bit biased. You know, some students might want to go back. Some might not. Just as parents have their own sets of viewpoints, we're the ones who are going to be physically, you know, putting ourselves at risk.
So even if it's just, you know, one-time straw poll, I think that'd be really important to do, especially if you look at our district's Instagram comments. It's a lot of students trying to, you know, spread their views because there's no, you know, established outlet to do that. I really appreciate NPR's taking the time to listen to us. But yeah, just a lot of that more at the local level, too.
MARTIN: Madeline, what about you?
MULLER: I think the main thing I would just want to tell my school and district is err on the side of caution. Like, even though online school is definitely not the same as being in school - like, being physically there - like, I'd rather everyone be safer, especially for kids who I know have grandparents at home or who are taking care of, like, other members of their family. I'd rather them be safe and have to do online school than to go in person and put those people at risk.
MARTIN: And, Bronte, what about you?
ROLTSCH: Our district has kind of stayed in the middle. They haven't really made a side on either-or. And I want them to just, like, make the push. Like, go with the science because they have shown that they want kids to be out of school. They want to do online. But they don't want the backlash. And I think that they should just do it and keep people safe.
MARTIN: That was Bronte Roltsch. She's a senior - a rising senior at McKinney High School, which is just outside of Dallas. And we also heard from in this conversation Aya Hamza, who is a rising senior at Coral Gables High School in South Florida, and Madeline Muller, who is a rising senior at Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix, Ariz.
Aya, Madeline, Bronte, thank you all so much for talking with us. And I do hope we'll talk again.
MULLER: Thank you so much.
HAMZA: Thank you.
ROLTSCH: Thank you so much.
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