Commentary: My first full year of in-person high school 

uniors+Letizia+Oetker%2C+Azel+Al-Kadiri+and+Margaret+Morris+sit+in+a+hallway+before+class+studying+for+an+upcoming+biology+test.

Photo credit: Sophia Altemus

Juniors Letizia Oetker, Azel Al-Kadiri and Margaret Morris sit in a hallway before class studying for an upcoming biology test. Returning to campus as a junior for a first full year of highschool has posed challenges for students beyond the usual stress of eleventh grade.

By Greta Irvine, News Editor

The rumor is true: junior year is a hard year. How could it not be? Grades are vital for college, AP courses are introduced into schedules, ACT and SAT prep begins and extracurricular activities become a future necessity for college applications. 

But, this year seems harder than even the rumors make it out to be. And not in the way I described above. I just feel unprepared. Maybe it’s because I have never had a whole year of high school in person. 

When you really break it up, each year plays an important role in the high school experience. 

Ninth grade is an introduction to high school life, learning to stay organized with more difficult classes, taking on additional stress as grades (somewhat) officially matter, balancing extracurriculars with homework and holding on to a social life through it all. Most importantly, when you go to Archer, all this happens with an added layer of safety — the year is sort of like a test run. 

Teachers take it easier on you. They understand that the first year of high school can be scary. For example, semester one finals are known to be an “introduction” to real finals, which occur at the end of the second semester. And only a couple of honors classes are available to students, limiting the difficulty of the overall workload.

I would say I got most of that experience. Attending three-fourths of freshman year in-person allowed me to learn those skills. What I didn’t get, however, was a real attempt at rigorous assessments and finals, which usually would come at the end of the year in preparation for tenth grade. The abrupt switch to online learning also took away my chance to experience a full year of high school. A full year’s worth of stress, finals and challenging classes was a foreign concept to me — and, frankly, still is.

Tenth grade is the year to really hone in on study skills, manage the stress that accompanies multiple honors classes, balance social and extracurricular activities in an effective manner and truly dig into the challenges of high school life. 

I spent the entirety of tenth grade in my bedroom. Sophomore year on Zoom didn’t mean developing the skills I listed above. For my peers and me, it meant surviving a pandemic while attending school. 

So, now that I am in my junior year, it is no surprise to me that I am running into the wall of finals and trying to find my footing in various AP and honors classes. It is understandable that I don’t really know how to balance my extracurriculars with school work and am struggling to do so effectively. I did not have the classic high school journey that prepared me for my junior year, teaching me fundamental and essential skills to be a thriving learner. 

Plus, junior year is not known to be easy. Instead of being able to focus my energy on working through the challenges of 11th grade, I have to relearn the test taking skills that I lost over remote learning. I have to ease back into social situations that come with an added level of anxiety over whether or not I am being COVID safe. I have to make up for lost time with friends and I must retrain my mind to learn for five days of the week rather than four. 

This is not to say that juniors have it harder than everyone else, but rather to highlight what I believe to be an overlooked concept right now: junior year is already difficult, and coming back from a pandemic into junior year is bringing a lot of challenges with it.

I would love to offer my fellow juniors sage advice or share the steps I have taken to lessen the challenges of the school year. In total honesty, however, I am still trying to get my feet on the ground as well.

But there is value in that. There is value in knowing you are not alone in this struggle and navigating it with others. And there is value in searching for solutions with those that understand the hurdles you are trying to jump over.

So, as we juniors move forward this year, we must remember the unity among the chaos of learning and studying. We must act as support systems for one another as we share a common goal of a successful first full year of in-person high school.

For those in other positions, whether that be a family member, teacher, friend or student in another grade, I ask that you think of supporting a junior around you. Offer a space for them to open up, ask about their needs academically, physically and mentally, share common experiences or simply pose the question “how are you doing?” which may just make the difference in their day.

The rumor is true: we can do it.