A Look at Freshman Year Under COVID


Latin School of Chicago

The Latin School as seen from North Ave

Freshman year is never easy. Making friends can be intimidating, especially when coming to a new school. However, imagine attending the first year of high school online. COVID has had many implications for Latin students in terms of remote learning and new schedules, but it can be argued that one of the worst effects of the pandemic has been on social life. Freshman year is a crucial year to get involved in the school, meet new friends, and get to know the Latin community as a whole. This year, however, the freshmen lost the opportunity to engage in many of these activities.

When asked about their expectations for Latin, incoming freshmen shared similar views. Quinn Healy, who came to Latin this year from Frances Xavier Warde (FXW), said that when he first arrived, he had “high academic expectations for Latin.” Similarly, Cate Pak, who came from Chicago City Day School, said, “I expected Latin to be an environment where teachers really cared for their students and all the students supported each other. A lot of people from my school were going to go into Latin, too, so I knew a few people.” Nicki Dowd, also from FXW, expressed her expectations that Latin would be “a very diverse and friendly school, which it is.”

The freshmen said that, with the many school-related changes wrought by COVID, they felt they missed out on the traditional freshman experiences. As Cate said, “I think it was harder to get to know people, and my study experience overall was lacking because COVID made my motivation decrease.” Nicki said she felt like she hadn’t “been able to get the full Latin experience,” in comparison to what she’s heard from upperclassmen. An important part of the Latin experience is forging new friendships—which was initially quite challenging for students like Cate, who explained how the social dynamic started slowly but gained momentum as students got more accustomed to school life during COVID. “I made stronger friendships with the people at my old school that were coming into Latin because at first I didn’t really know them well. But as the year continued, once I made one friend, I started getting to know others through the one friend.”

A common theme among Latin freshmen this year seems to be their growing use of social media—specifically Snapchat. Cate said, “Snapchat has helped majorly. If social media was not a thing, I do not think I would know half the people I do. Snapchat and Instagram have really helped to communicate and ask questions.” Of course, the flipside to this is the concern experts have voiced that social media might come to replace valuable social skills. Cate didn’t address this concern directly, but she said, “Social media has provided a sense of relief because it’s not as nerve-racking talking to someone through a phone rather than actually approaching them and having to start conversations.” While it may seem like students are spending an increasing amount of time on their phones, “it is a way to stay connected,” freshman Ellie O’Shea stated. This has been true, as never before, during the COVID era.

In addition to confronting the social challenges of new meetings in the absence of in-person interaction, freshmen students had to navigate a new world of Zoom classes during their first year of high school. With that in mind, freshman students were asked how they thought they were perceived by their peers over Zoom and if their Zoom persona was an accurate representation of their personality. Cate said she “was portrayed very differently. Zoom breakout rooms or main sessions were just very awkward to me, which made me act more quiet.” Quinn had a more upbeat spin on Zoom, saying, “People didn’t know anyone’s personality over Zoom, so we kept an open mind to meeting in real life.”

Latin tries to foster a close-knit community where students and faculty are comfortable and familiar with each other. However, this year, freshmen felt a lack of community time and felt as though the school could have done more to maintain it. When asked what Latin could have done better, the consensus across the students interviewed was “more social time.” Nicki said she wished that she had more time to meet people, and Ellie suggested doing more group lunches and said she feels “more engaged in any community time because of how limited it is.” Additionally, Cate offered more events on Zoom to help us get to know each other, and better gatherings.

While this year was unconventional and rocky, it seems that the return to in-person learning has served as a light at the end of a tunnel for most students. Cate said, “In-person has definitely made it so much better. I have gotten to know so many students through the halls, dismissal, and lunch. Also seeing teachers in person made me more comfortable with them.” And Quinn said, “I now know people’s personalities better.”