In-person cohorts combine for every day instruction

Mia Fazio, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Westwood Regional School District has been, for the entirety of this school year, working on a hybrid schedule due to COVID-19 with two groups going to school in person on alternating days. While some students were working with the hybrid learning schedule, many other students were fully remote. On April 12, Westwood Regional School District combined the two groups into one 5-day-a-week school schedule. While some students decided to continue with all-remote learning, many made the decision to enjoy the last few months of school in person.

Frank Connelly, principal of Westwood Regional High School, said the decision to go to this new schedule was made in March and considered all students in grades K through 12. According to Connelly, the decision was made based on new developments regarding the spread of the virus: “For a while, [superintendent] Dr. Gonzalez was talking about the CALI [COVID-19 Activity Level Index] index and going back to yellow. This area has been orange for a while, but he was looking for back-to-back yellow. But once the staff was able to get vaccinated, that was one of the main reasons. Dr. Gonzalez and the administrative team met and began to discuss what it would look like if we met every day, and decided we were ready to do this.”

After a few weeks of the new schedule, Connelly is happy with the current situation. “I think it’s going great. I was concerned with how many kids would look to come back because of safety concerns I have. But we probably have about 40% that came back, so it’s great to see the halls alive again, it’s great to see more kids getting off the bus, in classrooms… So I think so far it’s going very well,” he said.

Connelly added, “I just think I’m so proud of our staff, the community, our students, how everybody’s handling this. I’m sure none of us expected last March 13, that we were still going to be sitting in a situation like this. So, I’m so proud of the way everyone’s handling it. It’s not the best situation but I think everyone’s making the best of it, so I’m very proud of everyone here.”

Westwood Regional High School social studies teacher Umbreen Rashid found the change a little bit challenging, but ultimately very positive. She said, “I think that initially, the transition to 5 days was overwhelming since there was a change in the number of students (increasing in the classroom), along with different protocols teachers had to follow with that increased number during the second phase. Fortunately, teachers have mostly gotten accustomed to the new 5 days phase, and it has actually added a lot more consistency to student instruction since we would see the same in-person students every class.”

While teaching during the pandemic has been very different from what Rashid envisioned, the return of more students daily has been a benefit. She said, “With the 5-D schedule, I’m happy to see more faces in the classroom, and I can actually alternate from walking around the room to sitting behind the desk and speaking to the camera. However, it will still never match up to a pre-Covid experience of real teaching.”

Junior K’drian Fraser, like many other students, missed being in the classroom more than originally expected. He said, “I’m looking forward to just being back in school. I never realized how much I was going to miss being in the environment until I left.” 

Fraser’s apprehension about returning to school was a very common one: “My only concern is if I would be able to focus properly in class.” In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and online learning, many students from different schools feel like their attention span has become shorter over the last year. According to the article, “Missing your spark? Pandemic stress can interfere with your brain’s ability to focus.” from The Washington Post on March 13, 2021, many people throughout the world, of all ages, have felt as though they lost their ability to focus as well due to stress from the pandemic.

Senior Ariamay Rivera has had mixed feelings on the return to school every day. “On one hand, I like it because I don’t have to be home all day long and get to be a little more active. On the other hand, it’s a little depressing because it’s very different from the environment it was before the pandemic,” she said.

Rivera has found that things that once annoyed her about school are now the things she wishes were still the case. She said, “I used to be really annoyed by how close together the desks were in certain classrooms but now I miss it. It’s really difficult to work with other people or just have simple conversations with a classmate because they’re so far away.” 

One of Rivera’s biggest concerns is one that faces most students: “I feel like we’re missing out on a lot of social interaction which is a key factor of the high school experience.”

Reflecting on this challenging school year, Rashid said, “This year was exceptional in so many ways, and the pandemic has certainly reminded me of my intellectual responsibility to my students. I’ve come to learn to always be prepared with other plans, and to find different methods of maintaining student-centered instruction. I hope people realize how hard teachers work and how important we are for this country.”