A New School During A Pandemic: The Freshman Experience

This year’s incoming freshmen also have to deal with an especially difficult challenge: COVID-19.


What many freshmen’s learning looks like on a daily or alternating day basis. (Credit: USA Today)

Starting High School is difficult enough during a typical year. Students have to get used to a new environment, new teachers, and new expectations. On top of that, this year’s incoming freshmen also have to deal with an especially difficult challenge: COVID-19.

Most of North’s new freshmen are in person for school every other day, which makes it more difficult for them to feel comfortable and to acclimate to their unfamiliar surroundings. Some students who are fully remote have an even more difficult time adjusting, as they have never set foot into the building as a student.

To help us get more insight into the new freshman experience, we interviewed Rachel Sutin, Liana Kafaierad, Maurice Zalta, Nina Zar, all of whom are on the hybrid school model, and Catherine Chang who is fully remote.

A still from a video made by the NHS staff to introduce new students to the building (credit: GNNHS)

When you found out what school would be like in the fall (being in school every other day or not at all, and the new safety measures), how did you feel? 

Rachel Sutin: When I found out about the school situation, I was cautiously hopeful. I believed that although students in Great Neck may not always be the best at social distancing, it would be nice to get back to a sense of normalcy.

Liana Kafaierad: I was happy to see safety measures put into place. Although I wish everything was back to the way it was before covid 19, considering the crazy situation we are in, we have to do what we can to stay safe.

Maurice Zalta: I felt a little nervous because I was scared that we would close down very quickly. 

Nina Zar: I was relieved that they would at least be taking some precautions, but concerned that many [students] wouldn’t care enough to follow them.

Catherine Chang: Since I knew that I would be fully remote, it didn’t bother me that there would be people going to school every other day. However, I was relieved that there were safety precautions because it would help the people who went to school be more safe. 


What was your first week of High School like?

Rachel Sutin: My first week of high school was a lot, to say the least. There was that usual new school stress around getting lost, new teachers, and new classmates. On top of that, there was the Coronavirus Pandemic, which made transitioning even weirder. 

Liana Kafaierad: I was a little nervous because I didn’t know who was going to be in school when I was, and I wasn’t familiar with the new building, especially because the open house was canceled.

Maurice Zalta: My first week of high school was much easier than I expected. I liked it a lot.

Nina Zar: It was somehow really overwhelming, while also really boring at the same time

Catherine Chang: My first week of high school felt like middle school because since I was fully online, I didn’t have to worry about finding my way around the school or how lunch worked. It also felt the same as learning in middle school but with different teachers. 


How did the staff and students at the north help you adjust to being there?

Rachel Sutin: The staff and students at North High helped me feel comfortable in the new building. Both upperclassmen and teachers were eager to show me around. 

Liana Kafaierad: Now I know my way around the building a whole lot better, so I can get to my classes on time. I’m still generally nervous because I guess I’m still not used to being around so many people (even if it’s only about half of the students that go to school when I do).

Maurice Zalta: So far I ask people for help when I can’t find the nurse’s office or a room. They have been really helpful so far. 

Nina Zar: Most teachers have been lenient with due dates which has been really helpful!

Catherine Chang: Most didn’t really need to adjust because I’m fully remote, but most of the teachers have been really understanding and offered a lot of help.


After about a month of school, how do you feel, and how does it compare to your first week?

Rachel Sutin: Being in school has given me a new perspective versus when I was new to the building. High school feels a lot less intimidating, and something about seeing older kids in their natural environment has made me feel that I can do this.

Liana Kafaierad: The teachers are really nice and surprisingly don’t give a crazy amount of work like I thought they would. The students have also been very nice.

Maurice Zalta: I think high school has gotten harder, but it’s been still easier than I thought it would be. I have really enjoyed everything so far. 

Nina Zar: I am still overwhelmed, just getting more assignments and less sleep now. 

Catherine Chang: After a month of fully remote learning, I’d have to say it’s harder than if I were to go to school to learn because I can’t concentrate as much and all the work is digital. Also as time went on I realized how much technical issues there were in zoom.


Has there been anything surprising that you’ve discovered since school started?

Rachel Sutin: Since school started, the sheer variation of kids has surprised me. There are puny Freshman, like me…and then there are kids who can legally drive. It’s confusing.

Liana Kafaierad: Nothing surprising has happened since school started.

Maurice Zalta: Nothing has really surprised me yet.

Nina Zar: I was surprised to see how many people actually don’t care about the safety of others. I knew there would be at least a few ignorant people, but I wasn’t expecting that many to not know or not care about how they can help, or even just not make things worse.

Catherine Chang: I was surprised to see how many teachers were supportive of their students and how many extra help zooms there were because all of my middle school teachers always talked about how the high school teachers let the students be more independent.


Is there anything that you wish would have been done to help you feel even more accommodated in school?

Rachel Sutin: I wish the teachers would be more accommodating with lateness/missed homework, at least at the beginning of the year. We’ve all been through the wringer this year, and that should make the teachers at least a little more lenient with students.

Liana Kafaierad: None of my friends share the same lunch period as me, which is kind of a bummer and that isn’t something we can change, unfortunately.

Maurice Zalta: At the moment I’m not sure.

Nina Zar: I wish extra help was more accessible. I understand why after school activities aren’t happening in person for now, but it’s pretty hard asking for help when it’s so out of your way to get it.

Catherine Chang: I feel like the teachers pay more attention to the students in class than online because sometimes when they teach they forget to share their screens or ask the online students if they have any questions. Other than that I think the staff and teachers have been very welcoming.


As is to be expected, freshmen across the varying learning models have experienced many different challenges, as well as many exciting surprises. Hopefully, as time passes, they will assimilate more to the North and have to deal with less difficulties.