New Life fills the Uni community for an in-person school year

Aakash Vasireddy

For the past year-and-a-half, Uni’s community – students, faculty, staff, and parents alike – has been participating in online learning due to the COVID-19 Pandemic which rocked the world at the start of March 2020.

However, a new, refreshing, and long-awaited energy filled the once-empty building on Tuesday, Aug. 17, as all classes – subbies through seniors – along with faculty and administration entered the double doors once again to start the 2021-2022 school year.

Uni is officially back. 

While many things have stayed the same from before the pandemic, Uni has implemented a number of changes for the start of the school year to welcome students back. Here are some examples of how Uni has changed since the pandemic.

Student Life

In-person school brings back something desperately missed during the online-learning era: Uni’s student life. As students adjust back to the social, vibrant Uni atmosphere that fills the halls, the community experiences the newest additions and modifications to Uni’s student life.

Students were greeted by a new banner hanging at the West Entrance that reads, “Welcome Back Uni Students; We’re happy to see you!” 

With the COVID pandemic declining but still present and to follow the University of Illinois’ policy of wearing masks, Uni students, faculty, and staff are required to wear masks inside the building throughout the day and present either proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID test.

Uni’s lockers were not needed during the pandemic, but all that changed when students returned to school. Because the administration could not find a completely fair way to organize locker sign-ups, lockers were randomly assigned by class. 

Freshmen and Sophomore lockers were randomized on either side of the second floor, while Senior Lockers were randomized around the first floor Senior Alcove. Juniors were left with the lockers on the North and South entrances.

A new Subfreshman class was met by notes from their Subbie Buddies as they took their place on the third floor, and the freshmen got to finally experience all of Uni’s four floors and their stairs after a Subbie Year of being online.

The start of the school year has also brought on some new programs. 

Uni introduced a new program called “Pathbreakers” for Subbies. These 15 Pathbreaker students had a chance to meet a week prior to the start of the semester to do activities together. These activities, including icebreakers, building a marble race track, playing Mafia, and more were supervised by various faculty members and Subbie Buddies.

In addition to the new Pathbreaker program, Uni introduced a new lunch program to provide student lunches.

In partnership with Hendrick House, students were able to sign up for a lunch plan to get boxed lunches at the start of every lunch period. The program provides for students with food restrictions, and the boxes are collected at the end of each day and reused. 

For many years, Uni has been known and introduced as the school without a cafeteria, and that students typically either bring a lunch from home or get something from the surrounding campus restaurants. 

With the new program, that all changed as dozens of students lined up outside the kitchen to receive their meal.

This new lunch program initiates a huge shift from having to tell parents the school cannot provide food options for students as many other high schools do. 

To complement Dr. Majerus’s first in-person school year as the official director of the school, Uni also welcomed in some new staff and faculty members.

New teachers for 2021-2022 include Dr. Christian Millán-Hernandez (Science), Dr. Rachel Banke (Social Studies), Mr. Matthew De Venecia (Computer Science), Mr. David Smith (Computer Science), and Mr. Morgan Fong (Computer Science). 

On the staff side, Uni also brought in: Don Marrow, Uni’s new Financial Advisor; Charlie Newman, Uni’s new Library Assistant who also happens to be an alum; Linda Sun, Uni’s new School Psychologist; and Damian Behymer, Uni’s new Technology Services helper. 

Schedule

Starting in March of 2020 when the pandemic and online-schooling began, teachers and staff came together to create a new “block schedule” for students while at home which changed slightly between the 2019-20 and the 2020-21 virtual school years.

Now, that block schedule was brought to life for in-person classes. 

The new schedule includes starting the week with Monday “Anchor Days” where every period meets for 45 minutes and the last class ends at 3:50 p.m.

Tuesdays through Fridays include “block days” where Tuesdays and Thursdays are “even” periods (2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th), and Wednesdays and Fridays are “odd” periods (1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th). 

These four class periods, respectively, last for 85 minutes with 10 minute passing periods, an increase from 45 minute class periods and 5 minute passing periods during the previous in-person school schedule. New signs also scatter the school to help students and faculty with the new schedule.

To go along with a new 8:30 a.m. start time as opposed to 8 a.m. and the building opening at 7:45 a.m. as opposed to 7:15 a.m., Uni Periods – a special period for various activities and clubs – have been moved to the end of the day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. 

Finally, with Uni still subject to COVID-19 restrictions, administration provided specified spots for classes to eat lunch. Every class has the option of sitting outside, but Seniors can sit on the first floor, Juniors and Sophomores can sit in Kenney, Freshmen can eat on the second floor, and the Subbies can eat on the third floor.

Building Changes

There have been some changes to the building since the last time students have been in-person.

Some adjustments in furniture were made for: the Senior Lounge, with a new room setup and a couple new couches; the WAC lab, with brand-new chairs and some new tables; and the Library, where some of the comfy chairs – to the dismay of some students – were moved and replaced by some tables and chairs.

Over the summer, Uni’s kitchen was completely remodeled. Uni’s kitchen now includes new hardwood floors, large fridges, nine microwaves, and new lighting. Some fold-up tables have also been placed in the kitchen for the time being.

In addition to the kitchen, Uni’s main office was remodeled with new floors, a new wall, and a new floor plan.

Finally, Uni has now added “Women’s Plus” and “Men’s Plus” signs for restrooms on all floors.

Events

An in-person education after a year and a half of being online has not stopped Uni’s community from having a few notable moments and events to start off the semester.

Hosted by the Subbie Buddies for new subbies, Uni’s orientation took place on August 13th and was once again in-person, a much-needed relief after a virtual orientation the previous year for the current freshmen. 

The all-school assembly to kickoff the new year was scheduled for outside in Uni’s quad on the first day of school, but due to an unexpected rain shower, the assembly was moved to Uni Gym with various members of administration along with Student Council President Madeleine Keenan welcoming students back to Uni.

Due to the pandemic, yearbook distribution for the 2020-21 school year was pushed back to the start of this school year. Students were able to obtain their yearbooks during the first week, and some students, including class of 2021 students, got to pick up their yearbooks during the final week of summer.  

The last time Uni’s community had experienced a school dance was March of 2020 with Spring Fling. However, the return of students to school meant the return of the annual Howdy Hop. The dance took place on the first Friday of school, as per usual, on Uni’s greenspace, a change from its typical first floor location.

Finally, on Monday, Aug.  23, Subbies and Subbie Buddies were able to enjoy a day off of school with a hot, fun-filled Subbie Retreat at Hessel Park. 

As the Uni community adjusts back to in-person school, the beginning of club meetings, sporting events, and Uni’s Quad Day lurk on the horizon.