Schools in Romania welcomed students back on the 14th of September — six months after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With little-to-no use of technology within the framework of Romanian state education, public schools struggled to keep students engaged during this time, and local officials were under immense pressure to open—despite climbing COVID numbers.

To understand what the first month has looked liked for students outside our AISB bubble, we reached out to several public school students to get their views on returning to classrooms during the global pandemic. The interviews were conducted in Romanian and later translated to English, with the goal of keeping sentence structure the same.

Q: How was your first day of school?

Photo credit: 10th student attending Nicolae Grigorescu High School.

Like most students around the world, the majority of people we talked to were excited about getting off their screens and seeing friends again.

“The first day was great because I got to meet my new classmates,” says a local freshman. He explains that even though the transition from middle to high school was pretty weird, the excitement of changing campuses is a right of passage most people look forward to.

Many high schoolers echoed this excitement, but the elementary students we spoke do unfortunately did not. A second grader who attends school in Vrancea County called her first day “disappointing,” as she was forced to social distance and wear a mask on instead of sitting with her friends. Her opinion was shared by a 4th grader, who says there were “too many rules to follow.”

Q: What does your schedule look like? 

An example of an 11th grader’s schedule during the global pandemic.

Some of the students report that their schedules have remained relatively unchanged, while others report minor to major changes—the most common being an alternating model, which has students learning in-person for one week then switching to online for a week.

“My schedule is made so that every day I have contact with a minimum number of teachers, so every day I have more hours of the same class,” says a 9th grader. “For example, on Wednesdays I have three hours of just computer science class!”

A 10th grade student explained that her school has a hybrid program, meaning “a class is split in two groups, group I and group II. Group I goes to school for a week while group II has online classes. Then group II goes to school and group I has online classes.” The hybrid program is also used at the 4th grader’s school.

All of the students we spoke to commented on how strange they thought AISB’s model was; but then again, most public school students had much shorter school days than we do in “normal times.” The students interviewed confirm that before COVID, they would go into school at 8am and, depending on the school, would get out at 12pm or 1pm.

Q: As of right now, do you prefer distance-learning or in-school learning?

One of the ninth graders says that he prefers distance learning “because [he] want[s] to protect [himself] from people who got the virus and [he] think[s] it is easier to learn.” However, this opinion was not shared by the rest of the people interviewed. All the others agreed that in-school learning was more clear and helpful. These are their responses: 

“I prefer in-school learning because I can understand my lessons better than I do online; I have a reason to wake up early, to go outside of the house, and I can talk to my friends more” —10th grader.

“I prefer to be in school because I understand better that way. Online, they cannot bring me up to the board and explain what I didn’t understand, to make me understand and give me examples” —11th grader.

“I prefer to learn at school rather than at home because at school, teachers explain [the content] well and I understand much better than I do at home alone. Teachers at my high school always ask if we have questions and when they teach they teach with pleasure” —9th grader.

Q: What is your school doing to prevent further spread of COVID-19?

Photo Credit: parent of a student in primary school.

Everyone we spoke to had similar answers: students are required to wear masks and sanitize their hands when entering the building. Most schools are adjusting the schedule in some way to allow for smaller groups, although to one of the 9th graders interviewed, this means “no more than 28 students are allowed in one classroom, and the desks are at the necessary distance from each other.”

Other differences to AISB are that students are “required to disinfect [their] own tables and chairs.” There are no fancy tents at the entrance of the buildings, and people are generally “encouraged” to social distance, rather than follow specific traffic patterns on sidewalks, or sit at socially distanced outdoor tents.

In many ways, students at the local public schools are sharing a similar experience: the excitement of seeing friends and classmates, the nerves, and the anticipation. We’re also all trying to acclimate to the new hybrid schedules while doing our best to manage the stress and anxiety that comes from all these changes.

Tell us: Do you have friends who are experiencing other ways of learning during these strange times? Comment below to start a conversation.