By Ms. Ferg
After nearly four weeks of educators tackling the world of virtual learning from the halls of Oak Creek High School and students showing up to class from their bedrooms, the educational reality due to COVID-19 is about to change once again on Sept. 28, 2020.
On that day, students will be back in the building two days a week, while learning remotely, or “asynchronously,” on their at-home days. This plan reduces classroom sizes to approximately half, minimizing the risk of close in-person contact to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the instance student or teacher were infected with the virus.
On this last week before the hybrid plan is launched, preparations abound. The school district and administrators are finalizing rules and protocol, readying staff to react appropriately to every scenario that could emerge. “Everyone is working incredibly hard and long days to provide the best solutions despite the tough situation we’ve all gone through,” said Mr. Lataille, associate principal. “I believe getting 50-percent of the students in the building at a time will provide a sense of normalcy for students,” noting that staying safe will involve a team effort and use of masks, social distancing, and hand-washing.
Teachers are tweaking their lesson plans and classrooms to fit the new structure. In one such case, English teacher, Mr. Steeves, has spaced his seats according to district guidelines. While Steeves is “apprehensive about students potentially bouncing in and out of class due to quarantining,” he’s looking forward to having students back at school. “We’ll take it as it comes and do the best we can, as ever,” he said.
Ms. Fritz, also an English department teacher and a key communications instructor, noted how virtual learning has been especially challenging in her role. “I am a very expressive person, and I watch my students’ expressions and body language for constant feedback in the classroom,” she said. “Without this feedback, I have been floundering at times.”
Mr. Comiskey, a hallmark in the social studies department, agreed that virtual learning has put educators to the test. Most challenging of all, according to Comiskey, has been “not seeing the students and getting to know them. … It will be late September when I first see everyone in person, and I won’t automatically know all of their names. That’s disheartening.” And while the essential use of technology has posed a challenge, too, Comiskey notes that he has grown from the experience. “Because I value growing in anything I do, this has been positive,” he said.
Despite the challenges educators and students have faced tackling education in a virtual world, when polled on Instagram, a surprising 43-percent of students said they prefer virtual learning to in-school.
Students cited flexibility and the ability to develop self-reliance as key advantages to virtual learning. “I got to learn more about how I am motivated, how I can work independently, and how I am able to adapt to new scenarios,” said senior, Sophia Azim, who also felt the block scheduling format resulted in a “massive success to my personal learning.”
Lilly Nick, also a senior, agreed. “It made me become more responsible and more of an individual learner,” she said. “In a normal school setting, there is a lot of collaboration with others, but when it is just you, you have a greater responsibility to reach out to teachers [if something] is not making sense to you.”
Although many students were able to focus on the positive aspects of virtual learning, they are still excited to return to the building two days a week starting September 28. While she will miss being in school with some of her friends, Kari Kelly, a senior, said, she thinks “smaller groups is the best way to start safely getting back to school,” adding that “hopefully masks and social distancing will keep everyone healthy.”
Azim is also looking forward to the return to Oak Creek High School halls. “As nerdy as it sounds, I genuinely love school. Not only because I get to learn and explore new ideas every day but also because I really value social interactions,” she said.