graphic by Julie Wang
Remote – Danielle Berdichevsky
Hybrid – Lexi Cooke
The City of Newton’s website states that 180 Newton residents have died of COVID-19 — 180 neighbors, friends and family. COVID-19 has brought sadness, uncertainty and fear globally. The pandemic changed everything we knew to be true — from grocery store trips to school.
Recently, Newton Public Schools decided to partially reopen in-person, high-school learning after being closed since March. To ensure in-person learning would be safe and follow COVID-19 guidelines, the School Committee created the HyFlex model, creating a hybrid learning model in which two different cohorts attend school two days per week, while those who opt out of the hybrid model learn exclusively remotely. I chose to stay remote because even though education is a high priority of mine, my health and safety mean more than going into class.
In November, cases began to spike. Based on an infection rate graph on the City of Newton’s website, on Dec. 29, 2020, there were a total of 57 confirmed cases. Last April, when COVID-19 was novel and uncontained, the most cases confirmed in a day was 59. With cases continuing to rise, Newton’s decision to open schools now makes little to no sense.
I understand and agree that in-person learning is more meaningful and educational than remote, but I am fine working from home, especially when returning would mean risking my own safety and that of others. I have routinely received emails reporting positive COVID-19 cases from South, and if more kids come to school sick, the community’s health and lives will be at risk — the present safety precautions do not counteract this risk.
Safety aside, I don’t think I’d enjoy the hybrid learning model. With all of the new protocols from one-way hallways to mask-wearing, students are hardly going to see their friends, while some students and teachers will stay remote. The payoff simply isn’t worth putting myself in such a dangerous situation.
When it comes time to fully return to school, I want to go back and see my friends, talk to my teachers, walk around the school and go back to normal. The current model is not going to feel normal or freeing to me, so I opted to remain at home and enjoy a bit more control.
The HyFlex plan also fails to achieve equity. Students with disabilities are being completely disregarded. To receive the support they need, some students with disabilities require in-person learning. These individuals should be given priority and safety — beyond Cohort C, which is open to a select few students, including some deemed high needs — during these uncertain times.
It is not fair to put those in danger who don’t have an alternative option to in-person education. Since I am not one of those students, I didn’t want to add to their risk.
If I were to go to school, I would not only be putting myself, but my whole family at increased risk of contracting the coronavirus. I see my grandparents at least once a week, and they are at massive risk if they get COVID-19. If I were to return to school, I would have to give up seeing them.
Even if no one in your family is considered “high-risk” for COVID-19, you never know how someone’s body will react to the disease. COVID-19 is a gamble. Would you want to bet on your life? Like most students, I am excited for the day I can go back and experience some normalcy in school, but, for me personally, that day hasn’t arrived yet.
Why I picked in-person hybridWhen Newton Public Schools first shut down last March, none of us expected to be out of school for quite this long. In the spring, teachers said, “You’ll be back before summer, just in time for graduation!”
In the summer, teachers stayed optimistic still, “I’m sure you’ll be back by the fall!” they said.
But by fall, school was still closed, and we began the year with remote learning.
It somehow became the norm to wake up and roll out of bed to class, often still in pajamas. It was hard to even remember what regular school was like. For most students, the remote learning routine is boring and bland to say the least. Staring at a computer screen for the entire school day, without much movement, dampened a lot of people’s spirits and made it less exciting and enjoyable to welcome the new school year. I didn’t feel that school was as fun without the opportunity to really talk and be around my peers and teachers.
I fell into a monotonous routine, which made me realize that I wanted to take advantage of any in-person opportunities that South offered. That’s why, when the administration announced the option of some in-person learning, I made the decision to attend school through the hybrid model. I always knew that if we had a chance to go back to school this year, I would consider it seriously, as long as it was safe.
In making my decision, I considered my siblings’ experiences in a hybrid learning model. I have a sister in elementary school and a sister in middle school, so I knew that both schools had been successful in executing a hybrid model earlier in the year. Both of my siblings’ schools were using a similar model to South, in which they attend two days a week. Neither of them had heard of any COVID-19 infections as a result of the hybrid model, and I knew they were enjoying hybrid learning much more than they enjoyed fully remote learning at the start of the year.
Beyond my sisters’ experiences, I contemplated how my experience would differ based on which cohort I was assigned to. By the time I had to make my decision, however, South had not released information on how many cohorts there would be or how they would be sorted. Initially, I was worried that fewer cohorts would mean more people in the building at a time. Once I understood that there would be around five to 10 other students in most classes, I felt safe choosing to attend school in-person, understanding that physical interaction would be limited if not virtually nonexistent.
When I found out that we would be doing a full day at South, I was honestly a little shocked. I knew my sister’s elementary school had done it, but my sister’s middle school hadn’t, so I wondered why high school chose to tempt fate by keeping students in person for lunch. Since the high schools have more students, in-person lunch is worryingly dangerous. If you’re not familiar with the concept of lunch, it entails lots of people sitting in one room with their masks off, eating and drinking — a recipe for disaster. I did consider this a risk, but in the end, I still chose to go in-person because, for me, the benefits of going outweighed my concerns about the safety of the model.
No matter if you chose the hybrid or remote model, everyone is entitled to their choices. My choice was based upon the new opportunities that hybrid learning would grant me, such as being able to interact with people and getting to be in a new setting and environment. I thoroughly weighed the options and decided on what I thought would be best. Indeed, having experienced in-person learning over the past few weeks, I’m even more certain I made the right choice.