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Two High School Students Discuss Returning To School After A Year Of Virtual Learning

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Nazire Johnson and Michelle Mizhirumbay of Framingham, Mass. spent nearly a year learning from home, a very long year.

NAZIRE JOHNSON: It was getting really, like, lonely, like, very lonely. I would wake up, go on my school, go outside, work out, go back to sleep and repeat.

MICHELLE MIZHIRUMBAY: Because my parents work, I was taking care of a brother. He is eight, and he had school, too. And then we always lost Internet. And so it was really hard. And I had so much work, like, piling up since I didn't really pay attention. So it was just really stressful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Last Wednesday, Mizhirumbay and Johnson went back to school in person, a welcome change from being at home in front of a computer.

JOHNSON: We'd constantly get our hopes up. So like we'd be like, oh, we're going to go back. Or it's going to be all right - next thing you know, canceled. Like, a month later, we get an email from the school. Oh, OK, we're going to go back. It's going to be all right. Next thing you know, like, it's canceled again.

MIZHIRUMBAY: My started are going down. And my parents tried to help me. And also, the teachers tried to help me a lot. But since it's is high school now, this is where, like, your grades even count more. So, like, I really just wanted to go to school, so I can focus.

JOHNSON: I could tell in the lessons. Like, they were getting, like, easier as we went. And I wasn't really learning anything because even the teachers wanted to get back.

(SOUNDBITE OF KORESMA SONG, "CANYON WALLS")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mizhirumbay and Johnson are freshman at Framingham High School. And when they got the news this month that they would be part of the first group of students to come back into the building for hybrid classes, it was a relief but also nerve-racking - new teachers, new building, a lot to get used to.

(SOUNDBITE OF KORESMA SONG, "CANYON WALLS")

JOHNSON: The night before, I couldn't sleep. I was excited because this is, like, actually happening. So we get into the school, and I have no idea what's going on. I missed my whole first period because I literally did not know where any classes were.

MIZHIRUMBAY: I was just - kept telling me, like, I'm so scared. Like, how am I going to manage myself around? And I started, like, memorizing my classroom, so then when I ask teachers for help, I would have the right classroom.

JOHNSON: As a freshman, you should have, like, a pretty good relationship with your teachers. Like, I didn't even know my teacher. I haven't seen them except for their online faces.

MIZHIRUMBAY: It feels really different since, like, there isn't that much people in the classroom. And you also have to be in the computer while, like, your teacher is talking at the same time in front.

JOHNSON: School's about learning, but also, you want to see your friends and you want to have social interactions. But now it's, like, we're, like, 6 feet apart in the hallways. We have masks on. So when I talk, nobody can really hear me.

(SOUNDBITE OF KORESMA SONG, "CANYON WALLS")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But both Johnson and Mizhirumbay say after the first week, they're getting the hang of things. And they're thrilled to be back, not just to be out of the house but because they have a new perspective on what it means to be a student.

JOHNSON: I'm not going to lie. In eighth grade, I actually wanted to get out of school. Now it's like, I want to be in school. I want to see my friends. I want to have interactions. I mean, my approach to school now is more like I want to take it slow more. Like, online, I was able to, like, stay home and study. That was the - like, some of the good parts of it. I became, like, a better reader. I became a better writer. All that time to myself, I mean, I didn't just waste it.

MIZHIRUMBAY: All the teachers are so amazing. They're so helpful. So I feel like before, I always liked math. But now I like a lot of the classes. So to go back to school Monday, I'm actually pretty excited.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, of course, as more students return to Framingham High, they'll get to see their friends again.

MIZHIRUMBAY: We had so much time that we haven't seen each other and spend time with each other. So there's, like, a bunch of things to catch up on. And, like, a lot of people have changed. So we can compare how it was before the pandemic and how our friendship is after the pandemic.

JOHNSON: Me and my friend group - we all talk about when the pandemic's gone, oh, in the summer, we're going outside every day. We're going to go talk to each other. And we're going to go hang out with each other every day. We're going to cherish those moments and make up for the memories that we missed during the pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF KORESMA SONG, "CANYON WALLS")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nazire Johnson and Michelle Mizhirumbay, ninth graders at Framingham High School in Massachusetts. They spoke to us for Learning Curve, our series on education during the pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF KORESMA SONG, "CANYON WALLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.