How Grace Learns During a Pandemic

Grace Church students will never forget attending school during a pandemic. Adults say they’ll always remember where they were on 9/11; an older generation might even be asked what they were doing when President Kennedy was shot, but for our generation, the question will be “what did you do during COVID-19?” And our answer will be simple: we went to school. 

Many students have vacillated in and out of school since September, but the numbers have mostly stayed the same. According to Mr. Mahabir, this number has been anywhere between 75-85, give or take a few. As of February 2nd, there are 165 members of cohort A, 160 members of cohort B, and 87 students fully remote. 

The Gazette decided to poll students via email to gain some specificity on these numbers.  In 80 responses to the “Anonymous Preferred Learning Style Poll,” 23.8% of students were remote and 76.3% attended in person. Students were also asked to share why they came into school or stayed remote — choosing more than one option was acceptable. Though not all remote or in person, 60.8% of respondents said that news of new COVID-19 variants affected their learning style, while 40.2% said that it didn’t.

90% of the students who attended in-person school agreed that part of the reason they came in person was that they wanted to see their friends. 51% agreed that they’ve found it to improve their grades, and 57% said that it improved their relationships with their teachers. 35% said they come to school to play sports, and 57% agreed that they enjoy it more than virtual school. In the comment section of the poll, one student stated that they “need to go into school because [they] need a change in environment and something to hold [them] accountable.” Another shared, “hybrid school brings some sense of normalcy.”

Of the students who were remote, 61% said that they want to be completely safe. However, 17.4 students said that they believed online learning would improve their grades and 30% of students even said that they like it better. While 21% of the students who were remote said that their parents made that choice, 30% said that the school guidelines were too restrictive and that they couldn’t see their friends. One student shared that they, “find going in for two days and then out for two to be disruptive.” Another exclaimed that, “All [their] teachers are online and it’s not worth coming in on an early bus to do zoom.”

This seemed to be a more common issue than previously thought, with another student commenting on how “Everyone logs in online from in school anyways so I can stay home and have the same experience.” This is improving, however. More teachers are returning rather than are leaving — the distribution of the vaccine playing a major part. The largest sum of full-time teachers that were remote at any point was at the beginning of the year, with only 25 absent from the classroom. Even if we include part-time teachers in this statistic, the most that were remote at any point was about a third of teachers total. This number is already much lower now than it was at the beginning of the year, and the administration hopes that the number can decrease to 0 as quickly as possible. 

“if I am relegated to staring at the screen all day, why bother coming into the building to do so as opposed to staying at home?”

This was one reason, the poll found, motivating students to stay home on specific days. Students gave a myriad of responses to this open-ended question, but one cited that they stay home, “Sometimes because none of my teachers are in, or none of my friends are going.” Another started, “On many days a wide majority of my teachers are online or require us to join zoom on our laptops,” before asking, “if I am relegated to staring at the screen all day, why bother coming into the building to do so as opposed to staying at home?” Hopefully, this issue continues to improve as the trend suggests it will. Other reasons to stay home on specific days included commutes or needing an extra hour of sleep. Others say that their workload can be easier managed from home. The weather was also a reoccurring factor in the often day-by-day decision. 

Some of the students who either opted to stay home on some days or were fully remote gave a few suggestions on exactly what could be improved for them to come in more often. Some of these were no small tasks, such as for covid contraction rates to decline or for complete vaccination. But others wrote smaller suggestions, like easier access to snacks, keeping the building open until 4:00, and more freedom of movement. One student wanted their whole grade to come in at once because they’d found themselves growing apart from some of their friends. 

And this was part of the reason that we received a flat “no” from many of the students responding to whether, if they were hybrid, they opted to stay home on some days. Many were decidedly against the concept of skipping school on days they were supposed to attend. Some said that it’s not allowed or that their parents wouldn’t let them. Others said that it helps them learn better so they wouldn’t. One student said, “I get to play basketball and socialize. Staying at home can really get you down.” Another shared, “I think we’re barely in school as it is.” 

Yes, this year has been difficult for everyone. But we as Grace Church students seem generally optimistic. We’ve certainly had a unique experience. And when we’re asked what we did during the pandemic, whether we were online or hybrid, we’ll all be able to say that we were in school. And we’ll say it proudly because as one student put it, school “makes me happy and hopeful.” The normalcy that education provides has been grounding many students and teachers during this exhausting year, regardless of learning style.

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