Back-to-school with tips and advice


Olivia Mowad

Natalie Schermer ’24 and Malia Gray ’24 smile under their masks while recounting their hard work and dedication this past year.

A fresh autumn day in August and a backpack stuffed with brand new supplies for the anticipated school year. Everyone knows the feeling, but for many students this year, the annual return to school and studying feels different in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. While undergraduate college applications, standardized testing and school culture have been among the elements of a scholarly experience impacted by COVID-19, a positive change is in the air for many students.

Nowadays, seeing students and faculty donning face masks is just as common as seeing them carry a backpack of their belongings to school, and unlike the latter, the former seems to be a lasting sign of the times. While an end to the pandemic may not be too far away, there’s no doubt that it has forever changed academics and the American school system. Since last year was truly extraordinary, as four sophomores at Foothill Technology High School (Foothill Tech) we have decided to share our experiences as students during the pandemic and the advice we’ve learned and followed during a truly pivotal time in our lives.

Sienna Darlucio ’23 offers advice to new and returning students from her last two years at Foothill Tech.

Lily Toreja ’24: I remember my first day at Foothill Tech on Aug. 18, 2020, and it was no energetic walk through the hallways or intermingling with classmates. Every morning was a simple routine: wake up anytime before 8:30 a.m., slip in a quick breakfast, log into Zoom through a laptop and go to class. Since my friends were attending different schools, remote learning left me feeling especially solitary. Despite the nature of the online environment, I was disconnected from the life I knew before the shutdowns and social distancing. For once, the celebratory status of one’s freshman year, considered a rite of passage into a memorable high school experience, had faded. Along came a strange year of cementing Zoom meeting codes into one’s memory, for some, arguably more than class material itself, and limited opportunities to socialize and befriend others. Though retrospectively my freshman year wasn’t done justice, I’m hopeful for my remaining high school years. I encourage others to understand and cherish their capacities to give and receive gratitude to their beloved. My advice after this past year: don’t be afraid to make the first steps or start the first conversation, whether you meet new friends or try something completely new or unfamiliar.

Claire Hadley ’24: I like many of my peers, worried how my freshman year would affect the rest of my high school career. Class lengths were shortened to fit our “emotional needs,” when in reality it added stress. How was a short day with limited minutes of learning going to get me prepared for my continuing high school career? I eventually learned that it is important to stay in the moment instead of constantly stressing about the future, because everyone will have shared experiences. Throughout all the stress, I was able to stay calm and collected by taking time to enjoy the outdoors, spending more time with my family and interacting with a small group of friends. The pandemic taught me that this upcoming school year, cherishing every moment that you get to spend inside of the classroom with people rather than behind a black screen is crucial.  Cherish the smiles of your friends, the feeling of when you press your back against a school chair, the scent of pencil shavings and the laughter of students as they interact during lunch. Although I never want to experience quarantine again, I’m grateful for all of the life lessons that isolation has presented to help me persevere through the next three years of high school.

Alessandra Malagon ’25 gives tips from her first week at Foothill Tech. (Olivia Mowad)

Isheeta Pal ’24: I had a unique freshman year experience that was one for the history books. Most of what was supposed to be my life-changing year of high school was spent in my bedroom, behind a laptop screen. Although everyone was doing class from home, we still managed to learn and have fun in our classes. One class where I experienced this was my English class. I was fortunate to have been approached by five girls that I can now call my closest friends. These girls made the class even better, along with my teacher, to whom I will forever be grateful. Then in April, I got to meet them along with more of my classmates and peers.  This version of in-person learning was different yet memorable, and I advise incoming freshmen to truly enjoy their school experiences because these moments will never come back again. 

Emilie Huovenin ’24: While coming back to school in person, a primary focus of the student body is to help others make friends. Returning to in-person school also means adjusting your learning. Some tips for improving your academics are to keep up with your work, participate in class and always ask for help when needed.

We have spoken to five students here at Foothill Tech for their input on their advice for students returning to in-person learning following the switch to online learning during the pandemic.  

This year’s freshmen, Foothill Tech’s Class of 2025, had quite the experience last year.  Alessandra Malagon ‘25 gives her insight on how the previous year prepared her for high school, saying it, “has been really tough, so it’s prepared me to be a lot stronger with the schoolwork now.” The support she’s garnered from her family and her teachers have, “given me a lot of tools to help me prepare for it, so they’ve been really understanding and stuff.” She’s expressed a profound interest in her activities this year at Foothill—socializing with others and having fun.

For many, finding a balance between school and extracurricular activities after a year of quarantine will be a challenge. Sophomore Malia Gray ‘24 lends advice to anyone who might be struggling with a combination of school and sports, “as soon as you get schoolwork, do it immediately. If you don’t have practice right away, do your homework and stay committed to school and the sport you’re doing.”  

Brianna Franco ’22 enjoys helping new students find their way around school. (Olivia Mowad)

The current sophomores spent the majority of their freshman year online, so seeing many new faces is common for the lowerclassmen. Natalie Schermer ‘24 voices her opinion on the early stages of getting to know students after a remote learning year. “For the first week of school, I like how we did the no backpack days because then everyone really got to know the people in their classes. A lot of sophomores didn’t really know many people.“

Along with the adjustment from distance learning to in-person learning, Foothill Tech junior Sienna Darlucio described an organizational skill she has utilized throughout her high school career. “To keep myself organized during the school year, I heavily rely on my agenda to help me organize my homework plus outside activities,” she explained, “my agenda helps me with my time management and it also gives me an idea of what I should accomplish in a day.”  Offering advice she wished she knew before freshman year, Darlucio continued, “some advice I [wish I knew] before freshman year was to complete [your] homework as it was assigned instead of holding on until the last minute to finish it and turn it in.”

When interviewed about how they keep up with schoolwork, Brianna Franco ‘22 also adds that one way to keep up with school work is to, “have a list for what needs to get done throughout the week.”

Though the academic experience we knew before COVID-19 may never truly return, students remain hopeful about their schooling and future endeavors. Perseverance, grit and integrity have brought them all to where they are today, and we can safely say that although the pandemic was tough, students look upon this year with wisdom and are excited to start another school year with the advice they’ve gathered in mind.

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