Dire predictions surrounded the hybrid reopening of the high school on October 1. Some argued that any in-person learning at all would endanger the community and inevitably fail, while others argued that students would not be able to access a quality education in a hybrid environment. A month later, the hybrid model remains up and running at the high school amidst a magnitude of changes to the “typical” school day.
The hybrid consists of three cohorts, A, B, and C. Students in Cohort A attend school in-person on Mondays and Thursdays, and students in Cohort B attend school in-person on Tuesdays and Fridays. Cohort C, reserved for students with higher learning needs, goes in-person on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Everyone stays remote on Wednesdays. On remote days, students typically meet synchronously over Zoom.
Some students feel that the cohort system poses social challenges, as students only attend in-person days with those assigned to their cohorts.
“The main thing hybrid learning has done is prevent me from seeing all of my classmates,” said Will Madden ’21. “To not be able to share my final year in high school with the same kids I’ve been at school with since kindergarten or middle school is very unfortunate. Knowing we might never step foot in the same school building together as a class is an uneasy thought.”
Others feel that the smaller in-person class sizes offer a more effective learning environment.
“I have really liked the hybrid model and I thrive when I am in-person at school. I really enjoy the smaller class sizes we have this year because it is a lot easier for me to focus,” said Natalie Martin ’21.
Many students, however, feel that the hybrid model poses challenges to building relationships with teachers and learning effectively.
“It is really hard to get to know your teachers in the hybrid model,” said Anna McGrew ’24. “I believe that the student-teacher relationship is very important for academics, and only getting to see your teachers four times each month in-person is difficult. Especially on Zoom, it can be hard to get attention if you are confused about a topic.”
From a teacher standpoint, the hybrid model poses a new pedagogical challenge: how to teach remote and in-person students simultaneously.
“The toughest part of this year has been trying to effectively teach both the kids in school and the kids at home. Sometimes I feel like I am ignoring the kids at home, or if their screens are blank, it can be difficult to get a read on what’s happening. Because group work had to be redesigned, it’s difficult to have that high level of engagement in class,” said Ms. Stephanie Giancioppo, a math teacher at the high school.
New COVID-19 safety protocols and policies impact nearly all aspects of the school day. Students must fill out a questionnaire about their health before entering the building each day, and must also log what desks they sit at for contact-tracing purposes. Students must wear a mask at all times unless they are outside and social distancing, and all hallways and staircases are marked with specific directions for travel which students must abide by. In addition, after each class, students must walk outside around the school building during a fifteen minute passing period.
“It definitely is nice to have fifteen minutes between classes this year, but having to walk outside after every class definitely can get annoying, especially when the weather is bad,” said Caroline McCurdy ’22.
To keep students spaced out at all times, the tables in the cafeteria were replaced by desks. As a result, students now must eat a socially-distanced lunch under tents installed outside. Students are assigned to tents based on what class they are in during lunch block. In cases of bad weather, students are permitted to eat inside at desks.
Emotions around the lunch situation remain mixed. Some students feel that the nature of the new lunch format takes away the ability to socialize freely as students could do in normal times.
“Lunch has always been a time for being social, but now, because everyone is assigned to a tent, that interaction is very limited and confined to a certain group of people. While I know that the school must keep all interactions very structured for contact-tracing reasons, lunch can have an isolating feeling for the underclassmen required to eat in tents,” said McGrew.
Others enjoy the new format and the additional time given to eat due to longer passing periods.
“I really like the new lunch situation,” said Vaani Kapoor ’23. “Especially on warm days, it is so nice to sit outside and talk to people like you’re at a picnic. Having such a long lunch break almost feels like we’re living in Europe.”
According to the high school handbook, only juniors and seniors are permitted to leave school during lunch.
“I have found that I am leaving school a lot more because I have more time during lunch,” said Seth Tobin ’21. “I can get food from restaurants and can even go home for a little break.”
Overall, despite the various opinions and feelings around the logistics of the hybrid model and the many new changes to the school day to accustom to, many members of the high school community are just glad to be back in the building and with one another.
“Whenever I have an opportunity to talk to a student face-to-face, it’s invariably the highlight of my day. I am just happy to be back,” said Ms. Annis Chwalek, a guidance counselor at the high school.
“There is definitely still a lot of room to improve parts of the hybrid model, but in the end of the day, I am just grateful to be able to go to school in-person and have some sense of normalcy,” said Emilia Bletsas ’21.