BHS freshmen reflect on their unique high school introduction

BHS+freshmen+listen+to+assistant+principle+Herbert+Perez+during+freshmen+orientation+%2F%2F+Photo%3A+Colby+Skoglund

BHS freshmen listen to assistant principle Herbert Perez during freshmen orientation // Photo: Colby Skoglund

Rebecca Cunningham, Staff Writer

On Thursday, September 3, the Class of 2024 arrived at Burlington High School (BHS), ready to begin their high school journey. From the bleachers, they listened to introductions and then proceeded to follow brightly-dressed orientation leaders around the building to each class. The atmosphere hummed with enthusiasm, confusion, and nervous energy.

Little did these freshmen know their first day at the new school would be their last. The following afternoon, Superintendent Tom Flanagan announced that due to elevated PCB levels found in the building, students would transition to a primarily remote learning schedule until the end of the semester.

“That was a punch in the gut,” freshman Quinn Boyd said. “We were getting kicked out of school for reasons other than Covid which was really really hard to hear and really disheartening.”

Lola Rubin on her first day of high school // Photo: Lola Rubin

With this sudden announcement, the class of 2024 faced a remote high school experience completely unlike their 12-year-old selves had imagined. 

“There was going to be parties every weekend and I would have a lot of friends and it would be like the movies,” BHS freshman, Lola Rubin, said. “That’s how I imagined high school, with all this fun stuff like spirit week, and pep rallies, and dances.”

Another freshman, Norra Moody, expected her freshman year to look like that of her two older siblings. 

“The homecoming experience seemed so fun,” she said. “I was that annoying middle schooler who went to the homecoming football game and watched them pack the stands and I wish we got that.”

Boyd shared a similar sentiment. 

“I have never gone to a game or homecoming so I don’t know what I’m missing out on but I know I am missing out on something,” Boyd said. “These bigger events I will never get back.”

Students will also never regain the in-person class time they lost this semester. For freshmen, these past ten weeks of online learning have been especially detrimental as they have tried to form new relationships. 

Quinn Boyd practices his volleyball game while meeting new classmates // Photo: Quinn Boyd

“It’s been really tough,” another freshman, Rukiya Awayle, said. “I don’t know anybody and it’s hard to talk through a screen.”

“It’s just lonely,” Rubin agreed. “You join Meets but you don’t even get to talk to anyone. That’s why I end up going on Snapchat during some of my classes, just to talk to people.”

While every freshman interviewed said they primarily socialize with their friends from middle school, sports teams and extracurricular activities have offered opportunities to make new connections.

Moody played soccer on the BHS JV team this year which helped her connect with new classmates.

“I did not know the Edmunds’ girls or all the other students who were coming in from other schools,” Moody said. “[Soccer] was very helpful to meet new people.”

Henry Tornwini, another BHS freshman joined a club recently called My Brother’s Keeper. The club examines racial issues in the community, and participants learn about African American history in the United States. 

“I look forward to it because I have people to talk to,” Tornwini said. “Not just my friends, there are other people I don’t know who I can form bonds with.”

Norra Moody chases a teammate during soccer practice // Photo: Norra Moody

New friendships also form through social media.

“People might text you randomly and say, ‘Hi I saw your icon [on Google Meets], can you help me with the homework or do you know what we’re doing in class?’” Moody said. “That’s how I’ve been building relationships with new people.”

For most of the freshmen, their relationships with their teachers are also exclusively through a screen. 

“The first day, my geometry teacher connected with me personally,” Moody said. “I thought it was really nice how he could remember something I said in a Google Meeting. I shared that I played hockey and then he emailed me and said, ‘Hey let’s talk about hockey whenever you want to.’ I thought that was really special.”

Awayle enjoyed connecting with her teachers individually. 

“It’s hard during class, but during office hours or after class it’s nice to go one-on-one so the teacher can get to know me because sometimes I struggle with communication,” Awayle said. 

Rukiya Awayle and her twin sister Hawa Awayle // Photo: Rukiya Awayle

On Monday, November 23, and Tuesday, November 24, BHS students had the opportunity to learn in person for the first time in eight months at the Edmunds complex. This district made this decision about a month ago because they felt that students and teachers work better in person. Many BHS freshmen just graduated from Edmunds Middle School thinking they would never return. 

“Part of me is relieved because I know the school,” Rubin said. “Part of me is like ugh I just want something different, but I guess I will still be with new people and this way I can actually be in person. It’s definitely better than the alternative.”

On Tuesday, November 17, Superintendent Flanagan also announced a more permanent solution: The School Board authorized him to enter a 3.5-year lease agreement with Macy’s. This means freshmen will most likely spend the rest of their high school in a converted shopping center. 

“I have a feeling that I will adapt to Macy’s perfectly,” Moody said. “I think it will be fun being downtown.”

Rubin is similarly looking forward to her future high school years. 

“I’m really excited,” Rubin said. “I don’t care where we go, I’m just ready to be back meeting people, in person!”

“I didn’t really go to BHS,” she added. “I had one half-day there. I feel like I don’t really know what I will be missing. This will be my high school from now on.”