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Pandemic High School

Hybrid and back-to-school learning

By Mackenzie Cramer

Students have recently passed a year of online school. Unsurprisingly, it has not been welcomed with excitement.

The school board has faced scrutiny over how they have handled return-to-school policies. They have been holding virtual public meetings, almost all of which have discussed when and how students will return (as well as discussions about the student resource officer program and ethnic studies courses in the coming years). Some parents have been notably vocal for months about their unhappiness with the board’s approach to returning to the classroom, and the pressure has not gone unaddressed.

Board members discussed a hybrid model as a possibility once Sonoma County left the purple tier, the highest level of risk. Earlier there were some mentions of a model where kids could be taught outside, as some sites did a century ago with open-air schools, although plans were never fleshed out or considered seriously. But despite the ongoing discussion and purple tier status, frustration with virtual learning has been evident.

Teachers have also faced backlash on the cautious approach. School staff were unprepared for this transition and many were fairly illiterate concerning the online domain last year, which tested many students’ patience and understanding. Most educators didn’t use Google Classroom or other online educational sites regularly before the pandemic. Although there have been improvements in online classes, student aggravation has not decreased.

Before, teachers and students had some form of a connection through in-person exposure. Now, school time has translated into a shared time suck that leaves students with the feeling that their time is being “wasted” despite shorter periods. This apathy isn’t because of teachers, but rather due to school feeling optional. It no longer seems required, but rather like a choice between sitting in front of a computer on Zoom and using their time how they want.

In short, there has been tension and anticipation throughout this year about reaching the tipping point of returning to some form of hybrid or completely on-campus learning.

After all of this continued pressure, hybrid learning seems to soon be a viable option, not due to the tenacity of parents but rather to the decrease in risk level. As Sonoma County has slowly left the purple tier, sites have begun preparation for on-campus learning. Many school staff have been getting their vaccines and a hybrid option by the end of April (perhaps early May) seems to be the goal.

Some schools have begun to release surveys to their students about their interest in hybrid learning or continuing virtually. High schoolers who are planning to take AP tests (which award college credit depending on the college and the grade on said tests) have begun facing the choice between taking tests online versus in-school.

However, even among students there is no overarching consensus on whether to return.

Some want to return as soon as possible. Despite the risk, the chance of being on-campus offers too much to reject. In-person learning will be conducted in a format that students understand and are comfortable with, while dispelling concerns posed by technical difficulties or internet stability. It also offers a chance of socializing and seeing friends (or at least people they haven’t been cooped up with for a year). Many students have already gotten a taste of normal life through certain sports like tennis or football and have been left wanting more.

Others are uncomfortable with a return to school. Although there are obvious benefits, the threat of COVID-19 has not disappeared or decreased to a point where they are comfortable returning to normal. Furthermore, although school staff have been getting vaccinated, many kids have not gotten the vaccine and live with family members who have not either. The possibility of spreading the disease to loved ones who are even more at risk than themselves seems too large a price to pay. The risk is enough reason to continue with virtual learning despite its many shortcomings.

The dichotomy of these two camps is clear, but many fall in between them still. Some are scared to return but face the risk of falling further behind if they stay virtual, seeing as they may lose the teachers that have been teaching them the entirety of the year if they stay online (because not all are staying virtual). Others have lost out on the opportunity to participate in music, choir, or the arts and have felt the loss of the community these activities provided, so the chance of getting them back is intoxicating.

A return to normal education will continue far beyond this school year, but a possible turning point in that journey is fast approaching. Everyone wants to return, but the consensus on whether this milestone is happening too fast or too slow? That depends on the individual.