Masks, social distancing, COVID protocols: Hear from 7 Spokane students about going to school in a pandemic

SPOKANE, Wash. – There is a lot of information with back to school that not everyone agrees on: mask requirements, social distancing and more.

We constantly hear from health experts, the state and schools about what should happen in class. The state has made some decisions that’s upset some families.

However, the students – they’re the ones who actually go to school and follow the protocols. We’ve yet to hear from many of them until now. 4 News Now spoke with seven students from all grade levels and different schools about their thoughts and concerns about all the COVID-19 protocols.

The students we talked to:

  • Rosalina Lopez, a sixth grader at Whitman Elementary School
  • Olive Pete, a freshman at North Central High School
  • Ivy Pete, a senior at North Central High School
  • Anders Johannsen, a seventh grader at Chase Middle School
  • Jack Toillion, a senior at Ferris High School
  • Bruce Toillion, a sixth grader at Moran Prairie Elementary
  • Emily Richardson, a junior at North Central High

What are your hopes for the upcoming school year?

Jack Toillion: Just the  semblance of the camaraderie that was existent pre-COVID. Things like the ability to emotionally connect with others has been a little absent, especially with masks. I really hope that this next year, we can be able to create more deep and intertwined connections among the school-base.

Ivy Pete: I think we’re looking for a little bit more normalcy and getting back to some sense of what it used to be.

Emily Richardson: I’m hoping we get through the cloud of confusion we’re in right now. We don’t have anything set in stone about groovy shoes, homecoming, any of those typical high school events you’d associate with a junior or senior year. I’m just hoping it’s a little better than last year. It’ll be nice to be back full-time, hoping we get back into a normal rhythm of like –hopefully, a normal year.

What do you all think about the masks?

Bruce Toillion: I don’t like it… I’m really tired of going, like have to be six-feet apart and wearing masks. I just wish everything was back to normal.

Ivy Pete: It’s frustrating to have to be wearing them in general, but I think we can understand why. But, more importantly, it’s frustrating to see your peers not complying and we all, like I said, want to be back to normal. When we have friends that aren’t, it’s frustrating. That’s another social realm to navigate, how can we be taking care of each other and being safe while also holding on to that some level we’re high schools, let’s have some fun.

Anders Johannsen: I think they’re uncomfortable and kind of weird, because it’s harder. I’m pretty good at reading people’s emotions and it’s harder to when half their face is covered. So, it’s harder to have a conversation.

Jack Toillion: It’s just a necessary evil and we’re going to have to learn to adapt to the social changes that come with it.

Olive Pete: I definitely think it’s frustrating to see my friends not wanting to wear masks, but I also do understand where they’re coming from. As freshmen, and always having to socially distance, it makes it a little harder to find friends in a new school. But, overall, I think it’s a pretty easy thing and everybody’s making it simple for us.

Rosalina Lopez: I think masks aren’t comfortable, they just feel weird especially for gym class and stuff.

Emily Richardson: I feel okay with them personally. I wear a mask everyday at my job still, I’ve been vaccinated since February. I’m an individual with asthma, so I don’t mind wearing a mask when i go to school.

You see online what people say about masks, people who want them, people who don’t want them. As students, you’re the ones going through this all day. Is it a lot easier than some adults think or don’t think it is?

Ivy Pete: I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as anyone makes it, to be real. I think the frustration and the anger and the issue is that we have so many conflicting ideas and thoughts… Students aren’t stupid. We read and we know all of these guidelines and we know the science, to understand where the bridges connect and where they’re disconnecting is something that causes a lot of conflict. That’s why a lot of students don’t want to be wearing masks and or they want to be online right now, especially for students. It is really challenging to navigate the world and decide which information we should be taking in, learning and trusting.

Olive Pete: I think when people see certain things on the internet, whether it’s just made up or if it’s real science, along with masks, they might just take those ideas and run with them in their head. When masks really, wearing them all day and in-between classes up and downstairs, it is not that hard. I’ve never once last year, walking through all my classes, going up and down the stairs had an issue of not breathing. But, people seeing viral things on Instagram makes them believe that those are real things that just happen to everybody.

This school year, you’re all starting with full-time in-person learning. You didn’t start that way last year, and some students didn’t even go back full-time. How does it feel to go back full-time?

Bruce Toillion: It feels great. You get to see all your friends back and you get to see your teacher in person. You can learn about them more.

Anders Johannsen: I think it’ll be nicer, because last year, it was a little frustrating because I got separated from some of my friends. They got put on other days because I was ‘A’ group and a lot of them were ‘B’ group.

Jack Toillion: School felt eerie, it felt hollow to the point where the lack of peers and the lack of full student body made me feel as if I wasn’t actually learning to the full extent that I should be. Having all of my peers, fully back in the school, I think it will make me more driven into education, I guess and focusing on my scholastic efforts.

Olive Pete: A big thing that everybody could understand was a loss in motivation, and I think seeing some of our closest friends for the first time in almost two years will really help with that.

Ivy Pete: For me, I’m really trying to limit my excitement or rather gauge it because we don’t know what’s coming. There’s still so many unknowns. We don’t know if we’ll be eating lunch inside the classrooms or in the cafeteria with our classes. We don’t know if we’ll have spirit con or anything like that. Really just being grateful for what we have and the circumstances and recognizing that it can change overnight.

Emily Richardson: I’m excited to be back full time and not have those days off. It just kind of instilled more laziness and procrastination in myself personally. I think being back everyday and seeing my teachers everyday, will keep me motivated to stay on top of everything especially with my workload for junior year.

Are you guys afraid of going back to either virtual learning or hybrid?

Ivy Pete: I think if it needs to be done, it needs to be done. We’ve learned that over the past two years – is these things we don’t have control over, we have to make the best of them, because our future is on the line.

Jack Toillion: It definitely worries me to see cases rise and to think of what it was like to be stuck at my house all day and staring at the computer screen. That isolation and that lack of social interaction that’s required when there are cases at that degree, it’s sad.

Olive Pete: I think it’s kind of a hard decision for everybody to make right now if it’s better for everybody to be safe 100 percent of the time or have one full year of good education.

What do you think about the social distancing rules? 3-feet is recommended, last year it as 6-feet.

Rosalina Lopez: I think it’s not that bad. It kind of keeps people away, you get to keep your personal space.

Olive Pete: It definitely makes it a little bit harder to make new friends when you’re meeting new people at new school. Everybody’s making it as simple as they can for us, so I really appreciate that, and I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.

Jack Toillion: I don’t really care. I’m seeing my friends and I’m seeing my teachers and my peers and the people I care about. I’m not losing the connections I’ve already established or the ones I’m trying to make, but rather it’s just like an extra precaution. We have to learn to adapt in our social interactions with each other.

Anders Johannsen: I don’t really care about it, there wasn’t much of a difference when we got back down to three feet. I was still close enough where I can talk with my friends and hang out with them. It wasn’t actually that bad.

Ivy Pete: As silly as it is when I think about social distancing, I think about stairs. I have to go up one stairway and down another to get to class sort of thing. Other than that, it’s a little hassle, but it wasn’t anything that’s extreme.

Bruce Toillion: It kind of makes sense to put three feet apart because people won’t like their other personal space, like they don’t want people too close, and also because of COVID.

Emily Richardson: The three-feet feels okay. I just think it’ll depend on what classroom sizes are. If there’s 30 people that are in a room again, and I’m 3 feet next to a bunch of kids, it might feel a little nerve-wracking. But, I think I’ll feel okay personally because I’m vaccinated. it’s an extra layer of comfort.

Do you have any other concerns or hopes you have for the upcoming school year?

Bruce Toillion: I don’t really have many concerns. all that matters is that I learn new things throughout the year.

Ivy Pete: For Jack and I, we’re applying to colleges, even thinking about what that looks like and how we can apply in COVID, a lot of requirements and changes have happened. We have to stay on top of it as students and that’s something we’re balancing is looking at the COVID world and the education world and where does that align.

Anders Johannsen: I don’t really have many concerns about it. I didn’t really have any last year or was worried about any of it. It wasn’t horrible to have to wear a mask or social distance. My hope is I can see more of my friends, hopefully. Last year I only had two friends in my class, in my group, because the rest of them were on other days.

Jack Toillion: I’m definitely worried about my education being lacking compared to prior years, in the sense that last year, it felt as if there was a disconnect between the student and the teacher. There was this preconception of like a fear and a worry of if school is going to be existent in the future or if they’re going to maintain their livelihoods, what have you. That clarity of knowing what the future entails, is something I think is going to drastically affect how exactly the teachers can teach. That definitely concerns me when I’m thinking about moving onto the next step of complete independence.

Olive Pete: I definitely agree with everyone when they say education and learning was very different last year. For me especially, music and playing my violin in orchestra and symphonies in big groups is a huge part of my life… Everything is definitely changing, so I guess I’m a little worried about that.

Rosalina Lopez: I hope that I learn better this year than I did last year.

Did you all feel like you didn’t learn as much the last year and a half?

Jack Toillion: For sure.

Collective yeses were heard from the group.

Ive Pete: Our teachers felt that pressure too, and I think there’s this overall sense of urgency to be cramming so much and SEL has been lost in that, that social emotional learning. We’re all hoping to bring that back up, but I think a grounding that is we’re all going through it, like everyone in the world going through exactly what we’re going through. So, remembering that people will be lenient and students are doing the best they can is really important.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Jack Toillion: I think adapting to the ever-changing aspect, functionalities of schools is something that’s grown over this past year.

Rosalina Lopez: I’m more nervous, but I’m actually really excited, because I want to make new friends and stuff.

Olive Pete: I definitely am a little nervous because it’s a huge change in how we’ve been learning. I feel like I was kind of just starting to get used to how the online learning was working, and I kind of started to enjoy it. But, definitely, I learned a lot more in person when everybody understood what was happening and it wasn’t as rushed.

Emily Richardson: I think we’re all just kind of concerned about how long we’re going to be in this environment of wearing masks and not being able to do anything. Just like at least for us, I’m going to be a junior, I only have a year left. I don’t even know what’s happening with cheer this year. it’s kind of annoying. We’re just all hoping we can get a prom in, a homecoming, groovy shoes before we have to leave.

There is more to the interview than what’s in this article. You can watch the full discussion here.

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