In recent weeks, students across the nation have returned to the classroom for the fall semester. It has been just six months since they last stepped into the classroom, and they are returning in an unprecedented time with significant changes.


Texoma students in college and high school have had to learn to adapt to differences in campus learning as well as had to adjust to distance learning while still dealing with the broad uncertainty surrounding what their schedules will look like as time continues.


"I haven’t seen their faces."


Madison Broadway didn’t expect her senior year would be quite like this. The Denison High School student said she has had to adjust to many things, including a transition to remote learning this spring as many schools went online.


"I wasn’t thinking that in my senior year so many things would be canceled," Broadway said. "It is a learning experience though, and that’s how I have to look at it."


Broadway initially didn’t take the pandemic seriously until it started getting closer to home and cases in the region began to rise.


"It was really weird because before then the whole COVID situation was laughable," she said. "We didn’t take it seriously or know how bad it would get."


Broadway found out that Denison High School would be closing due to the pandemic while returning home from a college visit to The University of Texas. Unfortunately, Broadway’s tour of the school had been canceled.


"We were trying to wrap our minds around the whole situation and not really believing it," she said. "So, when I got that email it was really surreal."


Texoma students began adapted to the changes with online and remote learning, but Broadway still missed some of the keystones of being a high school student throughout the spring semester.


"I didn’t get to go to prom," she said. "I had some of my older friends who graduated that year, and because attendance was so limited, I didn’t get to see them graduate."


In returning to school, some things are still missing for Broadway. Seeing the faces of her friends and teachers is a huge difference. In some cases, she has never seen some people without a mask on.


"It is so weird to see everyone you know with a mask on, especially your teachers, because you get used to seeing their faces every day," she said. "Since the pandemic, Denison High School has gotten several new teachers and I have several new teachers. I haven’t seen their faces, and seeing only their eyes and up has been really weird."


Despite the changes, Broadway said she is trying to find the positivity that comes out of this difficult period. Afterall, there must be some silver lining to the current events, she said.


"There has to be something good something that comes out of this pandemic with the number of casualties that have come out of this," she said. "Something has to grow. Something has to give. Something has to give on the other end of the tunnel.


"There is no way to we are stuck in this dark moment forever."


Studying medicine during COVID-19


Gustavo Lopez wanted to follow the path of several relatives when he enrolled in Grayson College’s nursing program this semester. His father works as a surgical intensive care nurse while his mother is a respiratory therapist. Even his brother works in medicine.


"I just think that people that don’t have a lot of knowledge about health care are being skeptical about all this," he said. "As months go by people have slowly and surely adjusted to the new normal and are doing what it takes to keep each other safe.


"I think that if a health care worker can wear a mask across multiple shifts, then everyone should have common decency to do what it takes to keep this from spreading even more."


Lopez spent the last semester at Collin College before being accepted to GC in July. For his last semester, transitioning to online courses has been difficult.


"It was a little bit of an adjustment because I had another sibling in college and studying from home," he noted the increased demand on internet bandwidth between multiple Zoom conferences each day.


Despite this being his first semester at GC, Lopez has already seen some of the changes that COVID-19 has forced. Seating in the cafeteria is reduced, and many public spaces have been limited to discourage gatherings.


Many of classes are taking place in larger auditoriums, which gives the 40-or-so students room to spread out. Labs have also reduced capacity to limit the number of students gathering.


In the first few days of courses, Lopez said students seemed skeptical if the in-person model would work. However, they have had to learn to adjust to a new normal.


"People are still a little skeptical about everything," he said, referring to online classes. "But over the last few days, people seem to have gotten more comfortable and are adjusting to be in person for classes."


"Honestly for me, it was miserable."


While Lopez and Broadway said they were able to transition in all this, COVID-19 changes have not been easy for all area students.


Jacob Moreno is a public administration junior at Austin College. He found the transition to remote learning difficult, and because of the challenges, he has chosen to return to in-person classes this semester.


"Before we came back there was a kind of period of confusion where no one knew what was going on, not only at AC but across the world," he said.


It was simply about all that was lost in the remote learning model, for Moreno. He missed the interactions that he would have been able to have with his educators during that time.


"That quick transition online last semester was a lot for everyone. I know a lot of people got a grasp of it, but for me, I learned that it wasn’t the best type of learning experience," he said.


"Honestly for me, it was miserable."


Part of the issue came from technical issues, dropped connections, and having to reload lessons multiple times.


However, the choice to return to campus wasn’t instantaneous and the decision only came after he was certain that conditions would be safe.


For this semester, Moreno said some of his courses are split between online and in-person classes, with in-person meetings every other day. Others continue to meet in person with significantly reduced classroom capacity.


As students continue to work through the challenges associated with new learning models, the Herald Democrat will be following up with area young people about their experiences.


Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.com.