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Going back to school takes the shape of a W

Going through high school while online learning was a big change, but the biggest change for me last year was not having any of my normal extracurricular activities. Almost everything I participated in was canceled. We did have National Honor Society, Link Crew, tennis, junior exec, and track but all of those activities were toned down quite a bit. Tennis last year was only half of the schedule I have to face this year.

Instead of going to school, working on homework during lunch, and then going to meets, practices, and games of all sorts after, I had only school to focus on. This meant that I had a lot more free time on my hands. I spent that doing as I pleased: I went on walks, exercised, finished my homework at a reasonable hour, and slept a full eight hours every night.

Some of my friends had similar experiences. Some didn't. Many really enjoyed the relaxed school and extracurricular schedule and are now dreading the heavy load that is on the way. I also know people who are more than excited for school to start and had a hard time during the shutdown, maybe because of online learning, home life, lack of activities, or not enough social interaction.

I suspect the transitioning back to a normal school setting will be a huge change for just about everyone.

Truthfully, I'm nervous and scared that my full, normal schedule will hit me like a bus. I don't think I'm ready for the late nights, stress, and altogether busy-ness that I'll be dealing with in a couple weeks.

The best way I can describe how my adjustment period is going to go is by describing the "W-curve," a theory often applied to first-year college students. I think it will also be applicable to most high school students while they make the transition to the school year. These are the five stages of the W curve: The top left of the W is the honeymoon phase, the first dip is culture shock, the middle is initial adjustment, the second dip is mental isolation, and the top right is acceptance and integration.

I'm anticipating these five stages as I make the transition back to normalcy.

During the first week of school, I will definitely be in the honeymoon phase, if only for a short bit. Real interaction with people I haven't seen in a while, mental stimulation, and a schedule will together give me a boost of dopamine and serotonin.

But, I will slowly realize that I am not prepared to live such a strict schedule after a year of freedom. I will drop into culture shock or, in my case, sleep deprivation. Waking up, clubs before school, clubs during lunch, tennis and musical practices after school, and no time to recover in between will start to take a toll on me, especially while I try to remember how to study. I will fall into this first dip, and along with it will come more sleep deprivation, angsty teenager moods, and an unhealthy schedule.

Once I remember how to manage and prioritize my time, I will climb the ladder back up to initial adjustment. Here, I will again be happy that I'm able to be with my friends and participate in the extracurriculars that I enjoy doing. I will find some sort of happy balance and my everyday routine will start to feel like normal.

But I'll inevitably fall back down into mental isolation. This will probably happen when I start to stress about my future and realize that if I don't finish my scholarship and college applications, I will be in a lot of trouble. Everything will start to pile on, and I'll probably be wishing that I didn't take physics and need another study hall.

And then, perhaps after a glorious three-day weekend, I'll make the jump back up to acceptance and integration. At this stage, I'll realize that school is actually really fun. I'll find a sustainable sleep schedule and remember how much I love my friends, the school staff, my coaches, parents, and everyone around me. At this point, school will finally feel like it did before Covid hit.

Although some students may not experience this W exactly as I do, I believe most will follow the trend one way or another. This adjustment period is likely going to be hard for many different reasons. No matter the low points, I'm still excited to spend the school year in person. Pandemic permitting, of course.

Lydia Stone is a summer intern at the Pine Knot News and about to begin her senior year at Cloquet High School. Contact her at [email protected].