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Should students return to in-person school, or should they stay in distance learning?

February 24, 2021

Hybrid learning: a step in the right direction

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Students nationwide have been cooped up inside their rooms attending school online rather than attending in-person school, including those at Columbia Heights High School (CHHS). The isolation students have endured for the past year because of the pandemic has greatly affected their mental health and social skills. Hybrid learning offers an excellent opportunity for students to develop the social contact and hands-on learning experience they need, as well as keep proper safety precautions.

“In my eyes, online learning isn’t an adequate form of education,” Henry Mai (12) said. “Students need social interactions with teachers and peers and the experience of learning in a classroom.”

Hybrid learning combines online with face-to-face learning, meaning half of the students would stay at home and learn online while the other half would be in the building interacting with students and peers, and then they’d switch off. At Columbia Heights High School, that would mean an ‘A’ group would attend school in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays, a ‘B’ group would attend on Wednesday and Thursdays, and everyone would learn online on Fridays.

Hybrid learning offers a great opportunity for students to develop that social interaction they have been drastically missing out on. Even the most creative and engaging teachers still struggle to get students to interact and form connections over Zoom. It also allows them to ease back into in-person school by keeping online school as a regularly scheduled component of their education.

Going back to in-person learning before the end of the 2021 school year could be a great thing for seniors as well. Seniors will get their last chance to have a somewhat normal in-school experience during the spring before graduation and starting the next chapters of their lives. This includes milestones like prom and one final battle cry at a pep fest, yes, but it also brings emotional closure and the chance to do better on final AP tests and get one-on-one help on preparing for life after high school.

“I think going to a hybrid form of school is great for students,” Jonathan Dereje (12) said. “It allows them to get out of the house and have social interaction for the first time in a while.”

It can also give some relief to the teachers because they will only see students half the time in-person, and while the stress of teaching both on Zoom and in-person simultaneously is worrying, it’s still better than having a daily sea of black boxes on a screen that may or may not be paying attention at any given moment. Seeing teachers in school, even if only once or twice a week, can also give students the support and structure they need whilst maintaining the flexibility and safety that comes with online school. 

Although some may think bringing students and teachers back to school may be too risky, with proper safety precautions and more vaccinations being taken, the risk can be lowered. This upcoming Friday, the district will be holding a clinic for a vast majority (possibly all) of Columbia Heights Public Schools teachers to be vaccinated, which is an added reason for students and teachers to come back to school. Being vaccinated against COVID-19 decreases the likelihood of transmission greatly. Also, students and teachers will only be meeting half the time, which will decrease risks even more.

Students have been greatly affected by the significant change in learning style. While distance learning has pushed students to become more self-motivated, it has also prevented them from developing the social experiences you would normally see in a typical classroom setting. Switching over to hybrid learning would be the first, and really only viable, step to getting things back to somewhat normal again. 

Heights from Home: imperfect but works for many

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Distance learning is something important to understand whether you are a student, teacher, parent or somehow involved in the future of education. With Columbia Heights High School and Columbia Academy students possibly going back in person as soon as March 15, it is crucial for families to weigh their options on whether or not to return after a year of not being in school. 

Distance learning often involves platforms of large video calls such as Zoom or Google Meets that allow a classroom to come together, along with digital worksheets, photo submissions and online tests. Distance learning rose in popularity to help schools, especially ones located in cities that were COVID-19 case hotspots like Columbia Heights, help protect and lessen the spread of COVID and mitigate families’ risk of infection and exposure. 

The worry of getting to school on time has been something on parents’ and students’ minds for years. Questions of truancy and tardiness (especially during the winter months) have always been important. According to Bellwether Education Partners, a lack of transportation can contribute to a lack of education. Many parents live in low-income areas, out of district or out of the bussing boundary, and if they don’t have personal or public transportation provided, it can be hard for students to get to school. Distance learning introduced students to staying at home to learn, making it so there is no need to worry about transportation. 

Lack of transportation isn’t the only thing to worry about when it comes to going back in person. Bus outbreaks have been a threat, and while seating on busses might be socially distanced, drivers are still picking up multiple kids that end up sitting in different seats. Recently, outbreaks amongst transportation staff have been happening all around the United States from Bloomington, Minnesota to Collegeville, Pennsylvania. 

In terms of actual class time, teachers often give students more independent time to work off Zoom, and more time to experience resources online. Not only does this help students develop a better sense of self-pacing, keeping a schedule and being independent, but it can also help them learn and improve on skills such as critical thinking, independent problem solving, and technological skills. 

Yes, a parent’s life can get busy and distance learning isn’t always ideal if the caregiver has to run out of the house to deal with errands or have to work during the day. Babysitters and daycare can be expensive to hire for young kids, but if a parent has older children, they can be tasked to babysit or watch their younger siblings. Students that are doing distance learning are more likely to be able to help, seeing as they can physically be there and lend a helping hand around the house in between lessons and assignments.

“Distance learning is hard, but it’s better than going to school because I don’t want to worry about getting Covid,” Naima Hassan (9) said.

While distance learning has many benefits, there is a pressing issue and that is the worry of lacking social interaction. According to a study on loneliness and social isolation conducted by the CDC, having poor social relationships is often associated with an increase of 32 percent for the risk of having a stroke and an increase of 29 percent for the risk of heart disease. 

Despite this, many schools have found solutions, regularly go out of their way to hold extracurriculars, sports, and game and movie night via Zoom meetings. This shows how distance learning makes up for the lack of social relationships. Another alternative that teachers use often during school is breakout rooms, where teachers often encourage students to unmute or participate via chat with other peers. 

While technology is beneficial in so many ways during the pandemic, many students have had to deal with numerous issues, whether it’s a broken microphone or not being able to screenshot something on your laptop—or just having a bad wifi signal. There is no doubt that learning how to use technology can prove difficult, but many schools (including both CHHS and CA) often leave links, phone numbers, and emails to help access technology experts. As for unreliable wifi connections, schools have worked hard to supply families in need with free and easily accessible hotspots, or in some cases, reduced-price wifi service.

I think that distance learning is great for students who are self-motivated and independent learners or students who are able to have a quiet, safe space to learn,” social studies teacher and Link Crew Adviser Ms. Jen Ancel said. “Hybrid is tough because teachers have to teach kids on the computer at the same time as students in the classroom. That limits your choices of activities.” 

Ultimately, everyone needs to figure what method of learning could be most beneficial for you or your children, but public schooling often means choosing what will best serve the social, education, and safety needs of the majority of students. Distance learning is much more secure and convenient for many, with new alternatives created in just the past year used to combat the adversities that come with the format. Hybrid learning provides connections for students with peers and teachers safely as possible, but is it worth the risk associated when our answers for education during difficult times are already here at our fingertips?

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