Photo courtesy of Westerville City School District
With the roll-out of a vaccine and a decline in COVID-19 cases, districts around Ohio are working towards bringing students back into the building. On March 8, 2021 the Westerville City School District enacted the “Together Again” plan to bring all students, not enrolled in the Westerville Virtual Academy, back to in person school.
According to a presentation by the district sent to students and families, their decision was made to help reduce the isolation and struggle of students learning at home. The presentation highlighted that a return to a traditional learning setting would support students and their social and emotional needs, as well as supporting students with learning differences.
However, not all students are yet feeling that a return to normal is the best idea. In a poll done by the Scribe, 48% of students said they weren’t looking forward to a return to a normal classroom.
Science teacher Mark Schmidley said, “Students’ reactions are all over the place. Some students are excited. Others are anxious.”
Junior Rheygyn Carr, said that she was looking forward to seeing everyone; however, that’s the thing she’s afraid of. “There is going to be more spread. They’re only thinking about teachers and not everyone else. They vaccinated teachers before most of the older people,” Carr said.
As a part of the plan to bring everyone back the district provided new safety protocols to keep transmission of the coronavirus and quarantines to a minimum. Teachers were provided the opportunity to get the vaccine for COVID-19 in late February.
Along with offering a vaccine to teachers, the district also set guidelines for a temporary return to remote learning in case of a COVID-19 outbreak in the community or the district following the all in model.
A return to remote learning would entail a minimum of 10 days out of school, according to the plan. There will also be considerations of local and school data at the end of the 10 days. For a temporary return to remote learning to occur, the absences in the district must exceed the current threshold for five or more days, as well as a similar trend in positive cases locally.
However, after the first few days back in full session, Principal Mike Hinze said that things have been looking wonderful. “There has been some chin-masking,” said Hinze. However, he emphasized it’s not the biggest safety concern at the moment since it applies to only a few students. Yet, he said it does make people uncomfortable.
Hinze highlighted that being back at school for everyone will be better for social and educational learning than the blended schedule, saying that students can’t hide in their basements and avoid their work anymore.
Freshman Colin Andrews said, “This week has been fun. I’ve gotten to see a lot of my friends that I previously couldn’t see because of different cohorts.”
The district also highlighted that a return to all in is going to help the staff by increasing the interaction between them and students and reducing their planning time by not having to plan for in-class and virtual learning. Higher priorities have also been placed on learning standards and course pacing for the rest of the year.
Schmidley said, “I’ve missed full classes a ton this year! It’s been hard to reach critical mass for discussion and participation; and with small classes, one or two absent students can make the room feel empty.”
To help make things feel less awkward the first week back with both cohorts in attendance, teachers planned little ice breakers. Schmidley said he had, “a Cohort A vs. Cohort B trivia challenge to break the ice.”
Along with the awkwardness from students, there has been some from teachers and parents anxious about coming back and the virus according to Hinze.
However, Schmidley and others think staff and students hold the power to stay safe. He said, “It is especially important for students to wear masks correctly and maintain distancing in hallways between classes.”