Second return to blended learning

Ethan Edwards, Reporter

On January 18, U-High made its controversial second attempt at blended learning. During first semester, students chose between remote and blended learning options. However, in November, after four weeks of blended learning,  when the number of COVID-19 cases in McLean county spiked, students returned to a full remote learning plan. 

This second return to blended learning looks very similar to the first.  Measures to keep everyone safe include mask mandates, social distancing measures, assigned lunch areas for students who do not leave school for lunch, and no shared equipment in classrooms. In order to lower the number of students in the building at one time, students attend two days a week. Students in the green group attend on Mondays and Tuesdays while the students in the gold group attend in person on Wednesdays and Thursdays. All students are remote on Fridays.

So far, the response to the blended learning environment has been positive. Senior Amaya Fernandes has participated in blended learning both semesters. Fernandes said so far she has been satisfied with the hybrid learning setup. 

“At first, I didn’t want to go back,” Fernandes said. “Senioritis was a big factor, but being in hybrid, I kind of like it. I get to see my teachers and friends. When looking at what other schools are doing, I’m pretty satisfied with our setup. Nothing is perfect but I think ours is good.” 

Fernandes said that the structural changes to the school day, such as block scheduling have been great, from a remote standpoint. However, when in school, the block scheduling is more frustrating.

“When I’m at home, I really like it (block scheduling),”Fernandes said. “Most teachers don’t even use up the full hour and a half. So afterwards, I can log off zoom and relax and do my homework. However, when I’m at school, I don’t have my couch and blanket, and the classes feel longer.” 

Not only have students had a big adjustment during the pandemic, but teachers have had to adjust as well. Kayla Schahrer teaches Environmental Science, Biology, and Chemistry. For her, teaching in a remote and blended setting was challenging. 

“When this all happened last year, I first thought, what am I going to do?” Schahrer said. 

She said that shifting a science class to a virtual environment required a lot of trial and error.

 “I had to do a lot of Google searching for virtual labs and virtual simulations that we could do,” Schahrer said.

Schahrer said she has been, for the most part, satisfied with the blended learning plan. She said she feels safe at school with all of the precautions put into place and has not really had any issues with students disobeying the safety rules. She said occasionally a mask will fall below the nose, or students may get closer than 6 feet during the lab, but a quick redirect from her and the students comply. 

“When students come in for blended learning, they want to be here, so they assume they should follow the rules,” Schahrer said.

Schahrer said she enjoys getting to teach in person again. 

“There is so much benefit that students get from direct instruction. Getting to see the students every day in person fills me up inside,” Schahrer said. 

The only thing she is not a fan of in the blended learning environment is block scheduling. She thinks that it is beneficial to have direct instruction of the material every day and that the class periods being spread out creates a learning gap.

So far, blended learning seems to be going well despite the fact that the second return in January had a controversial beginning. According to the lab schools return to school metrics plan, the positivity rate within the county was supposed at or below 8% before students and staff could safely return to school. In an email sent out to parents in January, they were informed that the positivity rate was above 8%, however, the schools would move forward with the return of blended learning. 

Fernandes said initially the lab school’s decision made her a little uneasy.

“It definitely did worry me, but I felt I could go back as long as I took the necessary precautions to protect myself and do my part,” Fernandes said. 

Schahrer said she was very excited about the return to school despite the metrics. 

“I think they brought us back because the numbers were trending in the right direction and we would be back below the 8% threshold by the time we came back to school,” Schahrer said. 

There are a variety of reasons some students have chosen to stay remote. Some are still concerned for personal health reasons or the health of close family members. Some prefer the remote learning plan because it allows them to get more hours at their place of employment. 

Starting February 17, Pre-K through fourth grade students at Thomas Metcalf Laboratory school will have the option to return to in person learning four days a week. In an email on February 24,  Interim director of the Laboratory Schools Barb Meyer indicated she indicated that Metcalf and U-High will be shifting to in-person learning four days per week beginning March 15.