High school starts new learning model

SHS students and staff transitioned to the in-person learning model on April 12. In-person students attend school four days a week, as compared to the two days per week alphabetical split in third quarter.

80% of students are on campus each day in the in-person model, which is a huge increase from the 30% of students on campus each day last quarter. Instead of the six feet of distance that was required in the hybrid model, classes hope to have three feet of distance between students.

“Each class is likely going to increase in their capacity which moves us into a spacing issue … we felt that the tradeoff for being able to have students be back with their peers and be in front of their teachers was worth it,” said Dr. Bryan Davis, school superintendent.

Though spacing in classrooms has been reduced, contact tracing protocols have gone unaltered. Even if no direct interaction occurs between a healthy student and a COVID positive student, being within six feet for fifteen minutes or more would still warrant a quarantine. To determine if students need to be quarantined or be deemed as a close contact, seating charts are supposed to be enforced in all classes.

“Our district nurse will work in collaboration with our local health department, our teachers and administrators to make those decisions of who would need to go into quarantine and who would not,” Davis said.

Mira Kahate-Desouza, junior, was virtual last quarter. But when students were given the choice to go in-person or stay virtual for fourth quarter, Kahate-Desouza decided it would be best for her to spend the remainder of the year on campus.

“As most of the student body is going to be here this quarter I thought that the teachers might be more focused on in-person students,” Kahate-Desouza said.

As most of the student body is going to be here this quarter, I thought that the teachers might be more focused on in-person students,

— Mira Kahate-Desouza, junior

A virtual option remains for students and staff who do not feel comfortable returning in the current circumstances. This option will continue throughout next school year. Henry Heyden, junior, made the decision to stay virtual for the remainder of the year.

“We’re definitely moving in a positive direction but I don’t think the state of the world has changed enough for me to feel safe going back,” Heyden said.

Teachers also have had the opportunity to transition their classes in-person as they have gotten vaccinated or felt more comfortable returning to school. John Jacobson, American Government and Political Theory teacher, chose to return after completing the vaccination process.

“I wasn’t going to come back until I was fully vaccinated and the Shorewood School District was kind enough to accommodate that,” Jacobson said. “They have gone above and beyond to do everything they possibly can do to make us feel safe and to give us what we need to take on this challenging situation.”

The week following spring break was intentionally left in the hybrid model as the district anticipated an uptick in cases due to travel over the break.

Davis feels that the district has handled all cases and quarantines relatively easily, and has faith in the ability of the protocols to decrease the risk of transmission. 

“As long as we’re following our protocols and we’re not seeing outbreaks in our schools, then our schools are safe places to be,” Davis said.

In the beginning of March, the village’s case burden was below 100 cases per 100,000 two weeks in a row, signaling a return to four days in-person as outlined by the district’s gating criteria. However, this trend reversed and as of April 16, Shorewood’s case burden was 190.

We’re definitely moving in a positive direction but I don’t think the state of the world has changed enough for me to feel safe going back,

— Henry Heyden, junior

Due to this increase, the district is currently classified by the North Shore Health Department as having a high level of community transmission. At this level, the CDC recommendation is six feet of distance and the utilization of cohorts at the high school level, two protocols not currently in place.

Moving forward, the district will no longer be using case burden numbers as the criteria for switching between learning models. Similar to procedures for outbreaks of the flu or other illnesses, very low attendance levels (from students calling in sick) will be the district’s signal to reevaluate the decision to remain fully in-person. The district will continue to monitor community burden levels but these will not shape decisions in learning models going forward.

“If we had a significant spike and we started seeing outbreaks in the schools, that’s the point at which we would take a look at transitioning to virtual learning,” Davis said.

Students and staff, whether remaining virtual or returning to school, have varying opinions about each educational model. Some students felt that the switch back to in-person education was necessary to better interact with teachers and other students.

“I think one of the main things I have noticed about in-person, from my one day of doing it, is that the rest of the class seems more engaged and there is way more participation… For a lot of people, just being back on campus might be motivational just because they learn better in a physical environment,” Kahate-Desouza said.

Although she enjoyed the experience of being on campus, Kahate-Desouza also noted how much class sizes vary, and the danger that may pose.

“I was a little bit surprised about some of the bigger classes… For the smaller classes I definitely felt fine. I felt safe, I thought that the procedures were being followed correctly,” Kahate-Desouza said.

Teachers have also found it easier to communicate and interact with in-person students. Connection between students and teachers has become difficult over screens. Jacobson hopes in-person education provides the opportunity to interact with his students on a deeper level.

“It’s been challenging teaching remotely mainly because it’s just that much more difficult to connect with your students … being present in school, it’s the best way to learn,” Jacobson said.

Though many students are back to in-person school, it’s still essential to take individual safety measures and not act as though life is back to normal.

“Just because we are back in person does not mean it is normal school again,” Kahate-Desouza said.

For many, this has been a difficult year for learning. However, students and staff have maintained motivation and remained flexible. Jacobson has been proud of the effort and adaptability demonstrated by his peers and students throughout the school year. 

“This is what your children and your grandchildren’s textbooks are going to talk about. This has been your moment to take on this massive global event and I think for the most part my students and my colleagues have handled it incredibly well,” Jacobson said.