Freshmen & Sophomores Navigate Post-Zoom MA

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Finn D. '24, Co-Editor in Chief and Writer, Social Issues and Community

As Marin Academy rapidly approaches the highly-anticipated end of the first semester, many students find themselves reflecting on the past year of virtual learning. In recent months, I’ve had conversations with members of the MA community from varying grade levels and departments—with similar viewpoints on how the ramifications of a year online have affected their ability to excel socially and academically—and have been somewhat overlooked.

MA “did a great job of easing us into the academics” and “I found everyone to be very friendly,” Ally F. ‘25 says. Ally, whose middle school schedule, much like MA’s 2020-21 school year, was virtual for one semester and hybrid for the other, reported that her transition from remote to in-person learning “was super smooth.”

Stepping into the MA community, she, along with her freshmen peers felt “very welcomed” and “made friends easily,” yet there are certain aspects of MA that she doesn’t feel entirely connected to. Reminders of the school’s Zoom-hybrid era frequently pop up in Ally’s and other freshmen’s daily life—mostly when interacting with upperclassmen and moving around campus. These reminders appear in the remnants of tattered and trampled 6-feet-apart signage taped to virtually every floor and the deserted OWLs and buckets of sterile-smelling hand sanitizer that stand alone in various classrooms. The difficulty for Ally and other 9th-graders is that these reminders signify a shared experience they aren’t a part of, one that MA went through together during the pandemic.

“I don’t think there is much of a disconnect between our grades and other grades because of missing out on virtual school at MA but maybe the upperclassmen see us as not having gone through the same experiences they did with COVID and online school.” Ally raises a fair point about the 9th-graders being the only members of the community to have missed out on the MA virtual school experience, which may make it difficult to mesh with other grades. The rest of the school can empathize with each other about the difficulty of assemblies being virtual, along with tutorials, class meetings, advisories, and all other forms of MA’s social gatherings. Although her idea of the upperclassmen’s view of 9th-graders may have some truth, there are many community engagement opportunities open to freshmen participation.

Hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and COVID-19 signage in the LIB classrooms.

Unlike the wide variety of opportunities that the current freshmen are afforded, the current sophomores had few chances for extracurricular activities last virtual-school year: “This year I still feel kind of like a freshman because I didn’t get the chance to have a real high school experience last year,” says Alex H. ‘24. In my phone interview with Alex, she described to me a feeling which seems to be concerningly common amongst the 10th-grade class, one of stress and overwhelm: “transitioning from a freshmen year where teachers were going way easier on us, to a sophomore year where the workload is heavier, stresses me out.” She thinks that it partially derives from feeling “like you have to get involved in so many clubs and extracurricular activities to overcompensate for the opportunities we missed out on last year.” As a sophomore myself, I can relate to this feeling of “overcompensating” as I try to make up for time lost last year by filling up my already busy school schedule with all sorts of extracurricular activities. In my mind, and many other sophomores too, college looms large as we worry about what universities will think of us for not having participated in ECs our freshman year.

In addition to the stress the current sophomores experience, they were the only grade in MA’s history to enter high school on an online platform with an evolving curriculum based around remote learning. Alex told me that as a result of this, “There’s still some disconnect between my grade and the rest of the school because we were the only class to start at MA on Zoom.” The difficult part is that MA was isolated for almost 5 months last year—and the sophomores never got the chance to get to know the current juniors or seniors. Alex also pointed out that “the sophomores have basically been on campus the same amount of time as the freshmen, demonstrating that the 10th-graders are technically as new to the other grades as the freshman are. Most of the juniors took their first look at the class of 2024 at the start of this school year.

While it’s true that both the freshmen and the sophomores are in unique and unusual situations, virtually every other current 9th or 10th-grader is experiencing similar challenges to different levels of extremes. These experiences will be a testament to their resilience and flexibility.