Area students prepare for virtual school

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High school students all across Philadelphia are preparing to return to classes after a historic summer of masks, social distancing and travel restrictions. Teens have recently learned of their school’s approach to the fall semester — but how do they feel about these models that could deeply affect their safety or educational needs?

The most common learning method that has been instituted within local schools is the hybrid schedule. This schedule, which will allow students to communicate with their teachers yet limit student interaction, has been adapted by Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy, Saint Joe’s Prep and La Salle College High School.

All three schools have both split their student body in half to limit the number of students inside the building. The teaching staff will report to school every day, but each group of students will switch every other day between online learning and in person classes.

“I think that going hybrid was the best possible option for our community,” Elena Granda, MSJA senior, said. “As long as students are able to comply with health code guidelines, it will be beneficial for morale if the students are able to come into school at least a few days a week.”

Many high school students returning to school under the hybrid model are feeling lucky to even return to some sense of normalcy.

Andrew Kallmeyer, a senior at the Prep, explains his gratitude for his position as a student of a school that is returning to campus.

“I’m appreciative of any form of scheduling that will allow us to go back to school in some capacity so I have nothing to complain about,” said Kallmeyer. “Obviously a year ago I wouldn’t be psyched to hear that I would have to spend part of my senior year on a computer but in context this is a pretty great alternative.”

Kallmeyer refers to the thousands of students in the Philadelphia area whose schools are not returning to campus — among which is Central High School, a magnet school within the Philadelphia School District. The Philadelphia public school system announced that they are continuing online learning until at least November, after many teachers and parents criticized the hybrid schedule.

Senior Elizabeth Anderson said she had mixed feelings about the decision.

“I am disappointed because it’s my senior year and I want to be able to experience it fully but I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable returning since I go to such a big school and Covid would spread way too easily,” said Anderson.

Springside Chestnut Hill Academy is taking a different approach than Central, after announcing a return to a regular in person learning model, welcoming all students back every day. Usage of large halls and outdoor space will help students and staff adhere to social distancing protocol.

“I am happy with the decision that SCH made,” senior Tyler Guzik said. “I feel that I am more comfortable in a learning environment that will allow me to have a connection with not only my teacher, but as well as my peers.”

Whatever learning methods are put into place this September, there are going to be challenges for the students. Learning from home can distance students from their teachers and peers and limit the ability to ask questions and socialize.

Though SCH is returning to school, Guzik recalls his difficult experience with online learning during the spring — one affecting millions of students across the country.

“Learning from home was harder for me because I benefit from being able to have extra help with my teachers,” Guzik said. “I am more of a hands-on learner so being in a classroom with teachers present helps me to understand material better.”

Anderson notes another solid point.

“It’s pretty easy to get distracted when you’re working from home,” she said. Even for a hard-working student, zoom classes are difficult when stuck with family members, small study spaces and the distractions of social media.

Despite these setbacks, the general consensus from students about the biggest challenge of this unusual learning atmosphere is not the mounting questions or the boring zoom lectures — it’s the inability to see friends during the day.

“The things I miss most about regular school are the days when my friends and I would eat lunch together and talk during our free periods,” Mike Davis, senior at La Salle said. “I made some of my best friends at La Salle by trading trivial anecdotes out of boredom.”

The postponement of sports also intervened with a student’s social life. “I’ve met some of my best friends on the wrestling team at school,” Guzik mentions. “The fact that there’s a chance I won’t be able to spend my last year on the team with my teammates…it’s really disappointing.”

Fortunately, some extracurricular activities are continuing within safety guidelines, allowing students to reach their full potential in leadership and teamwork. Schools are investing in technology that will help create a safe environment for student involvement to continue.

“Our fall show is still going to go on as scheduled regardless of if we go completely virtual,” Kallmeyer states. “We’re planning to hire a filming crew to record us performing for it to be streamed to audiences, much like they did for Hamilton this summer. For Forensics [club], all fall tournaments are taking place virtually and as a captain, it’s my job to generate interest for the team from the new freshmen, which hasn’t changed with what’s going on now.”

Likewise, Granda explains that the newspaper at the Mount will be continuing, just on a different platform.

“[If] working from home, we will not have access to resources such as our desktops where we format page layout with Adobe Indesign so we may have limited physical publications,” said Granda. “That being said, we are creating a new website where we will be able to publish remotely and experiment with new forms of journalism.”

Though this school year will be like no other, students are stepping up to make sure it is a success.

“I think we just need to be flexible,” Granda said. “As long as students stay positive and stay safe, we have the power to make this school year count.”

Alexa Leckrone is a rising senior at Mount Saint Joseph Academy. She is working as an intern at the Local this summer.

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