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SLUH Welcomes Students Back to Campus

Members of the Mothers Club greet students on their first day back to campus.

Story by Jacob Sprock ’21
Prep News 85

A beeping alarm. A hypnotizing drive on the highway. A cram session right before a big quiz or test. School’s back to normal again … sort of.

For the first time in 181 days, the hallways and classrooms of St. Louis U. High were populated by students and teachers as in-person classes finally began last Thursday, Sept. 10, but things were a bit different. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the school to adopt numerous safety protocols in order to host classes in person while keeping the students and teachers safe.

The hallways now resemble conveyor belts, marked to keep students moving in a uniform direction to their next class. The desks are like mini islands, each one allotted its own socially-distant space. Students themselves are kept from any physical contact, having to keep six feet between one another to maintain safety. Classes are longer, breaks less frequent, and many clubs and sports have come to a grinding halt.

However, it’s hard to deny the satisfaction that comes with the ability to interact with other people again. Longer classes are more tolerable than over Zoom (the school’s primary means of distance learning) because students aren’t going through it alone anymore. Despite the many safety regulations, students as a whole seem to enjoy the chance to see their brothers again.

“Even though I could only see half of their face, it was awesome to see faces again,” said senior Alex Unseth. “Time away from people really makes life a difficult thing.”

Many teachers and other students agree with Unseth: it’s important to see people face-to-face, both from an educational standpoint and a psychological one.

“We’ve put a lot of resources into trying to have people together because I think there is a real value in human, relational contact, and I think it helps people’s mental health,” said SLUH president Alan Carruthers. “I think it helps teachers beyond the content piece. I think there’s a lot more we do in classes, formationally, that can only be effective if done in an interpersonal way.”

Head baseball Coach Ron Ramspott checks students' temperatures using an infrared camera system as they enter in the morning.

When students trudged up to school last Thursday morning, they were greeted with donuts from a joyous troop of seniors, given a pick between either a chocolate or vanilla long john.

Before entering the building, students had their temperature checked by a new, touchless system and marked their attendance via the VisitU app, then received their trusty lanyards when they reached their first class of the day.

The halls buzzed with excitement during the passing periods, and the echoing sounds of chatter bounced off the walls as students shuffled to their next class. The school had a sort of energy about it.

“To see guys back in the building together was something I hadn’t seen for a while,” said Assistant Principal for Student Life Brock Kesterson. “When you see it again for the first time, you realize how special it is. You see it. You see the look on these guys’ faces when you talk to them. You see how valuable it is to them.”

“When I saw the boys here on the first day, I had a big grin on,” said President’s Office secretary Kim Walsh. “It brings some kind of normalcy to see everything back in place.”

In general, the first two days went well. There were no major safety violations, and everyone followed the guidelines. The trick, according to Kesterson, is making sure it stays that way.

“What you have to understand is that if we don’t do this right, we’re not going to be able to stay here and do this,” said Kesterson. “For these first couple of days, I’ve been really happy that the guys are taking it seriously.”

As explained by Carruthers and Kesterson, the issue is not always about people staying safe at school so much as it’s about people staying safe outside of school. With students often breaking social distancing to attend parties and hang out with friends in public, the rate of infection for teenagers has been steadily increasing.

“I think there’s a collective responsibility as well as a school responsibility to make sure people are safe,” said Carruthers.

What’s evident about the SLUH experience with the coronavirus thus far is that there is no definite way to handle things. With situations constantly changing and new restrictions being put in place every day alongside more scientific breakthroughs in COVID research, it can be difficult to develop a single system to handle everything.

Students eat lunch in the Commons separated by plexiglass dividers.

“We’ve added elements as science has improved—as we’ve learned more about the virus,” said Carruthers. “We have added elements as we learn more about how (students) are interacting and moving about the building. We are constantly reflecting before we act and analyzing whether we are making the right actions and whether things need to be adjusted, particularly as we add elements.”

As the school continues on its trek in mask-to-mask learning, students and teachers are hopeful for the year to come.

“I think it’s really neat—the tenacity,” said Walsh. “I think somehow we’re gonna find us being closer. I think we’ve come a long way, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done as a school.”

“If SLUH continues to push a message of positivity and create a sense of happiness and pride for students and families, I think this could be the year where we look back and admire our pure strength,” said Unseth.

For Kesterson, it’s all about the mentality that students have going into the year and struggling with the hardships it brings. To him, we can’t expect the year to be the same experience as years prior; instead, we need to believe in something and build upon it.

“If you get too bogged down with all the details and with all the frustration of this, it’ll really wear you down,” said Kesterson. “It can lead to a lot of negativity. Try to keep your mind in a positive place. Rely on each other. I think we can really get to a point where we can label it a success.”

Carruthers believes that the best course of action for right now to have a good year is to keep things low-stress and focus on things like education, formation, and compassion.

“It won’t be the greatest year of all time,” said Carruthers. “We need to come to grips with the fact that the time for perfection is not now. You have to go from an Apollo 11 mission, where you’re looking to walk on the moon and do all these firsts, to an Apollo 13 mission, where you’re just trying to land the ship safely and get everybody home. My hope is to get through this safely, to learn, to continue to grow as a community.”

More about SLUH’s response to COVID-19

The safety, health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff remains our top priority at SLUH. For more information regarding the school's response to COVID-19 and the new schedule, please view our updates page.

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