Harwood Unmasked

March 11, 2020, is the day that we will remember forever. That’s when our lives got turned upside down, the day COVID-19 was pronounced a pandemic.

A few days later Harwood Union, much like most the schools around the world, decided to close for “two weeks.” Nobody understood what was going to happen. Students went on a “school break” with smiles on their faces.

Those two weeks become the rest of the school year. Soon teachers started assigning work on Google Classroom, and students disappeared into the virtual world. To their parents’ surprise, yes, it was possible to spend even more time in front of the screens.

There’s no place like home. But that was not the case when it came to learning remotely. For many students, putting up with siblings and other family members all day long was probably more difficult than most of their assignments. Not to mention the temptation of social media and their beloved beds.

A handful of self-sufficient students were able to stay on top of the workload. Others struggled with that and simply gave up. And with the following school year with hybrid learning, students were challenged with being at school for only 2 days. Having 3 days at home creates a disconnect with learning.

“I did not like virtual learning at all, and I was depressed. I was taking calculus, and the teacher just gave us Khan Academy, and that was not helpful for me. I just did not understand it all, and I needed help,” Allie shared with us. “I almost failed 11th grade.”

Senior, Allie Brooks

Don’t worry: she defeated the well-known “monster” class and successfully finished her junior year.

The summer came and students got a taste of what used to be everyday teenage life for a while. Hanging out by the river, working and spending money on creemees and lunch at the Canteen. Hikes, sunsets, and laughs. It seemed as if teenagers were trying to make up for the social life they’d lost during the time of quarantine. As strange as it sounds, everyone missed going to school in a normal way.

The new school year, new obstacles

When the Harwood school district decided to go in person in fall 2021, it came with a big catch. Everyone would be required to wear a mask and maintain social distancing rules. Neither students nor teachers knew what to expect: “Coming into this year I felt a little frustrated, I felt a little like, here we go again,” Laurie Greenberg, one of our school’s principals expressed. “Wearing a mask isn’t comfortable. And then secondly, not being able to really get to meet students, it was really hard.”
Junior, Cassidy Berry

Students also found it harder to make connections with each other: “I’m here for the social life, and it’s harder to be social when you cannot read people’s facial expressions, or even hear them properly.”

Junior, Cassidy Berry

Amalia also felt like something was missing: “In previous years, there have been so many more opportunities in high school. The trips to Greece and Italy and all those things. It was kind of very annoying to miss out on that because my sister went on so many trips, and it would just be good to have that travel experience.”

Junior Amalia Iskandarova

The cafeteria and senior cafe were closed. Students were eating lunch in our classrooms, unable to chat with best friends. You could not see your friends making goofy faces or the librarian Genevieve’s smile. You could not hear laughs since everyone was just closed within four walls six feet apart from each other. The hallways were almost empty and Harwood seemed for a while more like a funeral home than a school full of teenagers.

As difficult as the restrictions were for all of us, they resulted in COVID cases dropping in the school district. Around the time of the February break, Vermont’s governor Phil Scott announced new mask recommendations for schools.

Harwood was in the lucky group of schools with the vaccination rates above 80% and on March 14th, masks became optional. It was a significant moment for the school community. It was a chance to come back to the normality that we craved for so long.

Beginning of a new chapter

The seasons changed and so did the mandate, however, there are also people who decided to continue wearing their masks.  Their voices should also be heard. During the COVID crisis when people are as strong as they are together it is even more important to listen and find a happy medium.

Senior River Collins 

“I’m so happy about that. We did not realize how exciting it is to see each other’s faces until we lost it. I’m so glad that we no longer have to wear masks because it gives us a chance to be social again”

“I think it’s good that it’s optional. And I feel like people shouldn’t judge people, whether they want to wear them or not. I mean, as long as you’re being safe about it, I think it’s fine,”

“I was a little nervous but I was fine with it. I just continued to wear my mask to make sure that I go on my vacation in April. Now I kind of put my mask on and say, I don’t wanna get COVID.”

Dana Macdonald, Special Educator

“I feel like at the beginning of lifting the mask mandate I thought it was scary and I’ve only taken my mask off for one full day at school. I feel like as everything is rising the mask mandate should be looked at again for students.”

Mr. B,

Communicating with friends online and sitting the whole day in their rooms made many feel lonely and isolated. Coming from a developmental standpoint all kids, tweens, and teens missed crucial experiences. Things they were looking forward to since they were little.

Even though the pandemic brought mostly unpleasant experiences and most people associate it with bad things, some people have used this time for personal growth.

Sophomore, Emmet Lisai

“You know, over quarantine, I have just decided to start working out,” emmetfit, well-known Harwood tiktoker said. “I’ve started to run more actually and started working out a lot.”


Senior, Artur Cantallops

“I did develop a hobby for mountain biking over the quarantine period. I love it so much and still keep doing it whenever I can”

What’s Next?

It’s been 10 weeks since the mandate was lifted. The excitement the school community has had since the first day of the new chapter is still present. Harwood’s atmosphere has risen like a phoenix and people just seem happier.

Since the masks became optional, the COVID rates in our school district have been striking.

“We were watching closely COVID cases in the district and listening to the medical professionals. Even though we were seeing that people were getting sick they were also getting colds and all these other things that were keeping them out just as much,” Laurie Greenberg commented. “And our understanding is they’re watching hospitalization rates and things of that nature. And we weren’t seeing a spike in that.”

As joyful as people are to live their normal lives again, they cannot forget that their health is on the line here. Should students consider wearing masks again if there is another COVID outbreak? Would one step back mean going three steps forward or is the school community not ready for giving up the freedom it has just recently reclaimed?

It is probably too soon to answer these questions. Monitoring covid rates, adjusting to the state recommendations, and being on higher alert is what we should be doing now. Time will tell what’s going to happen. Hopefully, there will be a new chapter, without pandemic on the horizon.

How do you feel about the masks?

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