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I was sitting in class when I heard the attempted suppression of a series of wet, seemingly lung-compromising coughs.  I turned and saw one of my classmates, her face pale, eyes glazed over, battling to stay awake.  My teacher noticed, and asked why she wasn’t home resting. She croaked that she had two tests she couldn’t miss, so she had to come to school.  Throughout the rest of the period, a constant chorus of sniffles and coughs around the room seemed to acknowledge this commonly shared sentiment.

At first I was reproachful, and wondered why she and my classmates were being so obstinate in neglecting their health.  Then a few weeks later, my own immune system failed me.  I fell ill with a sore throat, a walloping cough, and a pounding headache.  Just as my classmate had, I forced myself through a Monday deathmarch in the name of not falling behind with my schoolwork.  At the end of the day all I could manage to do was drag myself to bed, where I stayed for the rest of the week.

When I came back to school the following week, it felt as though I had missed a whole semester.  I used several sheets of paper to write down every assignment that had to be made up because they wouldn’t fit in my planner.  Several of my teachers furrowed their brows when I explained I couldn’t go to their tutorial, as my tutorials for the next two weeks were booked by my other teachers.  Nights that week were spent playing catch up until the a.m, while simultaneously attempting to complete current assignments.  In those early morning hours I wondered why my classmates and I felt the need to jeopardize our health.

Teachers can’t just halt their curriculum when one or even several of their students are out sick.  It’s also unrealistic for teachers to seek out students outside of class to catch them up on the work they’ve missed while sick.  Students would rather suffer through classes to pick up that day’s assignments than risk falling behind. In this community the path taken after high school is usually the one to college, and students often get tunnel vision believing their grades must be perfect to allow them entrance to the future they want.  Grades are compared amongst students and are subconsciously used to compare one another.  By losing just one day at school students believe they are risking their GPA and are putting themselves at a disadvantage in keeping up in this high achieving atmosphere set by our classmates and ourselves.

“Based on my own past experiences I believe students go to school out of the fear that they will fall behind,” sophomore Taylor Kibrick said.  “When you miss one day you are missing several hours of classes. Within that time a lot of material could be missed and info that might be crucial to succeed in the learning environment.”  This survival of the fittest atmosphere leads to the need to go to school sick.  As a school community, there should be more empathy in helping one another succeed, especially when we face a challenge like getting sick, which is out of our control.

“There needs to be a better structure of learning outside the classroom to support absent students,” Kibrick said. “Teachers could post videos online that might cover information from class, then keep links posted on an online calendar.”

Freshman Charlotte Johnson also supports an online solution. “An online option would be good so students can work from home when they feel up for it, rather than having to make it up right when they get back,” she said.

Though individual, outside attention isn’t always a viable option, teachers should consider this way of support as well as fully engaging with a student that has sought them out and try to aid them as thoroughly as they can to help them after returning from being sick.

As classmates, we should support our peers and friends by offering to help them keep up with assignments.  Both of these things sound obvious, yet I’ve been hard pressed to find this kind of support when I’ve been forced to miss school.

As high school progresses, the stakes get higher, and it becomes increasingly critical to stay on top of schoolwork.  Of course, try your best to attend all the classes you can, but when you get sick take the time your body needs to get better.  Your health comes first.

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