Jumping into the 2020 school year with a twist

Jumping+into+the+2020+school+year+with+a+twist

Lizzie Miles and Sophia DiSarno

With the dual hybrid and virtual environment implemented due to COVID-19, students are experiencing an unprecedented school year that has had ripple effects across the community. Both students and teachers alike have been presented with the option to learn entirely from their home, or participate within a hybrid learning system. As the year progresses with no end to the pandemic learning in sight, what is the most beneficial way to receive a high quality education?

While students and teachers had to make the choice of how to learn and teach, the administrators were the ones behind this meticulous process, figuring out how to make this school year as safe and enjoyable as possible. There were countless guidelines in which the principals had to follow in order to open the schools for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Dr. Matthew Bolton, principal of Edison, explained that making the schedule was quite the process. “First, you have to understand that in late July we (the schools) were given about a hundred and fourteen pages of guidelines to follow. They were a roadmap for us to create how to go back to school in person. Going back to school in person was a priority, but more than that we needed to stay safe and healthy. The point is while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with remote, I do think that the kids needed to have the option to come back to school.  The guidelines set the tone of our schedule. Some critical things were social distancing, masks and sanitizing. We needed to create a schedule with different groups on certain days to create social distancing. We talked to a lot of people, students and teachers, and one of the things we were concerned about was having kids eat in school. Usually lunch is loud, crazy, and super crowded. So, even if kids were eating in their classrooms, I still don’t feel comfortable with people taking off their masks and eating in a closed space. Well, if we can’t eat lunch, we can only have half a day.” 

Dr. Bolton also explained how impressed he is with the school on being able to adapt so quickly to this massive change. “I’ve learned that kids and teachers are incredibly quick to learn new technological skills. The ability of kids and teachers to adapt to tech requirements have been key to making this work. I’m also really impressed with our community’s resilience. I think it’s easy to say ‘this isn’t going to work’ and give up. We could all say that, it’s the simplest way, but when you push through and start trying, you can make things work.”

Furthermore, Dr. Bolton expressed his feelings about the future of the school while still keeping the students and staff safe and when the school re-opens back to normal. “I think it does have to go back to the use of technology, which is ramped up. Two years ago, if we flipped the schedule, everyone would have been like ‘are you nuts?’ This required us to be more creative. I’m not saying everything will change [once we return to normal], but we’ve learned that it’s possible to adapt and we can do it. We’re going to come out of the other side after going through the worst experience in a hundred years, and I think it will influence how we approach problems.”

Another administrator who played a huge role in making all of this happen is Mrs. Crystal Marsh, the vice principal of Edison Intermediate School. She elaborated on the pros and cons of hybrid learning. “Hybrid pros are still coming to the building, having a community feel. The mornings where people are in circles of friends talking, or even in lunch studies outside, it’s like normal times. Some challenges are social distancing, keeping masks on and teachers transitioning to hybrid and virtual lessons. However, I feel like teachers are learning new technologies and we’ve done really great jobs with masks and social distancing. We have worked together.”

Dr. Bolton also explained the positives and negatives of virtual learning. “Well the positives are that it’s keeping us safe in a global pandemic and it’s given us the option of coming back to school. Without hybrid learning, we would be all at home, so it’s fundamental to the pros of hybrids. One of the other pros is how it demonstrates how flexible we can all be in our learning, because I think traditionally people looked at schools where change takes a million years, but we’ve changed dramatically since March in level of understanding and flexibility. As for cons, fundamentally I want all kids in school every day and we’ve just been completely disrupted from that. It really does stink, and I hope it doesn’t last much longer.”

Mrs. Kerri Webster, current eighth grade school counselor, added that she misses conversing with people in general. “As a counselor, my job is entirely talking with people. This has been incredibly hard for me and my colleagues because I can’t even have you [the students] in my office. This feels so unnatural, but we have to adapt. I feel that this is not how this should be. It’s really, really difficult, but we are doing the best we can to provide robust counseling services to students.”

In the height of this past summer, teachers were given a difficult choice; should they continue instructing entirely online, or return to school? Eighth grade Algebra and Math 8 teacher Zachary Crutcher, who opted for the latter, revealed that despite his choice to teach in person he still feels slightly at risk. “I feel at risk because it’s a global pandemic, and we’re all at risk no matter what. Short of living in your apartment and never leaving, everyone is at risk. However, the school has done a great job with reducing that risk. The policies administrators set up make a difference, in reducing the volume of kids that are in school do mean that it is safer.”

When it comes to following social distancing and other pandemic procedures, Mr. Crutcher admitted, “I think that it’s really hard, and if I was your age I would not be so good with it either. It is super hard to have that level of control and grasp how serious this is. Not everyone can understand how serious it is and how many people have died. I don’t blame people your age, I just wish it wasn’t the case and that we were doing a bit better.”

Although our current system varies from a typical school year, it’s decidedly impressive considering the constraints it had to follow. Eighth grade Language Arts teacher Mrs. Kimberly Swenson stated that, “The learning system now is so much better than it was in the spring. I feel like last year was do or die, we were in panic mode. You guys [the students] had small assignments and we didn’t have the resources or programs we use to help now, so I think we’re light years ahead of where we were last year.”

Mrs. Swenson, who has chosen to teach virtually, remarked that, “I think from an academic standpoint it’s nice that all of my kids [students] are in one place. I don’t have to look at a computer and a classroom simultaneously, I like that everyone’s together. I wish I were in school, but I think from a teaching standpoint, it’s easier focusing my attention on only the Google Meet so that no one feels left out.”

Whether instructing virtually or through the hybrid model, it’s proven difficult to not see students as often. Mrs. Swenson revealed, “I really miss the connection between my students and me. I try to make up for it, but you really can’t replace the waves in the hallway, the small talk in the cafeteria. With those kinds of things, it feels like there’s a void for me this year not having those interactions. In a heartbeat, I would want things to be normal. I want to be there more than anything; I miss the students so much, and I miss my colleagues too.”

“I miss seeing my students every day so much, it’s the hardest thing in the world,” Mr. Crutcher agreed. “Teaching is my favorite thing in the world, nothing makes me as happy as teaching does. I’m worried about your ability to learn, stay safe and stay healthy. It’s just really different, you guys are under so much pressure, and you’re asking to fill the expectations normally placed on college students. You all have the weight of the world on your shoulders and I just wish I could help more.”

With the teachers being faced with the tough task of how to teach, students also had to make the treacherous decision of how to learn. Both hybrid and virtual learning from a student standpoint is tough. Each of the learning atmospheres have positive and negative impacts on the students. 

While hybrid learning allowed the students to be in the school and provide a sense of normalcy, there were still so many flaws with going in and out of school. Jamie Foerst, Edison eighth grader stated, “I feel like I have a hard time remembering what my assignments are or I’ll forget to submit assignments. It’s a lot better than it was last year, but it’s definitely not as good as real school. Last year we would get five grades a week everyday plus a test, but now you get one or two grades a week so it’s impossible to get your grade up. Like one bad assignment and your grade’s ruined.”

Jamie also included that he believes it is much better than last year and being in school helped him feel much more connected to the learning environment. “Back in the fourth marking period last year I had such a hard time learning anything. In Spanish, one time I did an entire assignment in English. I feel like you’re so out of it when you’re distanced, and I wanted to have something to ground me to the school.”

Students who chose the all virtual learning route also remarked that they miss the connections between their friends and the teachers. Seventh grader Ceceilia Wiggins, included that she longs for the connections she had before this. “It’s sometimes lonely because I never get to see my friends. Seeing them is a big part of my school day.”

Another issue with all virtual learning is the amount of screen time you are getting each day. The Mayo Clinic Health System recommends teens and adults only spend two hours of looking at a screen. The minimum amount of screen time students are getting when all virtual is more than four hours, not even accounting for TV or phone times. Exceeding this limit every single day will take a toll on the students eyes.

Eighth grader Gali Avni agreed and stated, “It is a lot of screen time, and even though you have the afternoon, you’re sitting at a computer for six hours and you don’t have enough time to take breaks. And it’s not just the fact that it’s hard to sit still, it’s also bothersome for your eyes and after two hours of looking at a screen you’re supposed to take a fifteen minute break, which you can’t do during virtual school.”

Additionally, when being on a computer in your house there are countless distractions. Gali included that it’s hard to stay focused when a computer gives you so much to do. “For distractions, I would say it would just be on my computer getting a bunch of notifications, emails and things like that. Also, it’s distracting hearing the other Zooms in our house.”

Seventh grader Cecelia Wiggins added, “Sometimes it is distracting because of my family members making noise from their work or even free time. It can be distracting because not all of our schedules match up and it can be distracting if they are on a call while I am or they are on a call when I’m done and I have to be quiet.”

Although neither system is perfect, both offer individual positives and setbacks. Teaching and learning virtually is less complicated, but it lacks the in person connections of hybrid. As Edison Intermediate School shifts to an all virtual classroom once more, it’s become clearer than ever that the administration, teachers and students are learning how to thrive in this new environment together. These skills, as much as they cost us to learn, will only benefit us in a future where things eventually return to normalcy. So in the words of E.B White, “hang on to your hat, hang on to your hope, and wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day,” and we’ll all get through this together.