School was Going Hybrid — Then it Didn’t

Coping with an On-Again-Off-Again school year

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STUDENTS WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!!

That’s right. You read that correctly: We want to hear the swoosh of the basketball net in the gym, race into the cafeteria and have a bite of Miss Chrissy’s grilled cheese. Students like me want to just raise a hand to ask a question instead of sending an email.

It was going to happen.

New Haven Public Schools started the year with online learning, and on November 9 we were to head back in with a hybrid model. During hybrid learning we were to split into two groups. These two groups were supposed attend school in person two different days each week to cut down on people present at one time to allow physical distancing.

Sabrina Breland, principal of East Rock Community & Cultural Studies Magnet School, said teachers and staff were working to get ready. Staff laid stickers on the floor, spread desks apart, and planned new ways of working at school.

“We are not going to share anything,” Principal Breland said during a virtual press conference with East Rock Record reporters in early October. “If work is on paper, you will keep that paper.” She said the new approach would be “contradicting what we have always talked about — sharing.” But, of course, Covid has re-written a lot of rules.

Mary Glickman, PE teacher at East Rock School, was getting creative with plans for PE class in classrooms instead of the gym.

In doing online PE, Ms. Glickman said that because there “are a lot of uncontrol-ables, we all have to learn to adapt.” She did yoga and bowling-like activities, even a Pokémon coin flip to engage students, help them stay fit and have fun.

Just four days before hybrid learning was to happen, Mayor Justin Elicker announced that because of riding rates of Covid infections, would stay — online.

To get ready for hybrid, teachers and staff “pretty much over-planned,” said Ms. Leslie White DePriest, assistant principal.

Principal Breland was looking forward to welcoming students. “I miss their smiles, I miss their laughs. I love to see how smart they are. I miss hearing them learn,” she said. “What I miss most is the energy. I miss that energy.”

Over at ESUMS, the student council made videos explaining safety procedures and precautions to keep everyone safe. They even posted them on the school’s google classroom pages to make sure everyone saw them!

Everyone was excited to see their friends in person just like kids at schools in North Haven and West Haven.

And then, it was all cancelled.

Just four days before hybrid learning was to happen, Mayor Justin Elicker announced that because of riding rates of Covid infections, would stay — online.

So here we are in December. Still going to school. Virtually.

When you first hear “school at home,” you think, “Doesn’t that sound great?” I mean, pajamas and keeping your camera off, maybe playing “Among Us” — a game in which you can play with your friends to solve the mystery of who is taking the life of innocent task doers (crewmates) — all during class!

Online learning does have its benefits.

For one, you don’t have to be in uniform. Some students say they are able to focus on their health. “Now during breaks I can go outside and play,” said fourth grader Ryan Martinez, adding that “after lunch I can go outside.”

For some students, not attending school in person also affects their mental health.

I also like to get away from a screen and get outside into the fresh air, instead of staying cooped up inside. Some students like Omar Dweck, in eighth grade, likes online learning “because it’s safe.” Not only does he like it, but Mr. Dweck also passes with flying colors. And he still socializes. “It’s easier to talk to my friends when I’m virtual because I can just call or text them via Discord.” (Discord in a socializing app).

Many people don’t enjoy online school as much as Mr. Dweck does. Tasneem Musa, in seventh grade, said she was excited for hybrid learning. “I can feel like everything is back,” she said. “And I could still see my friends like I used to.”

Virtual learning also has a downside which is — you guessed it — internet issues.

As an eighth grader at ESUMS, I am constantly pushed to my limits, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. But when I have connection issues, I do not like it one bit. While we are in virtual class on a Google Meet, our teacher gives class assignments through a certain other website. If my internet goes out, I miss the instructions. If I send an email to the teacher, I am not completely sure when they will respond. In this situation, there are very few things that I can do to try to fix the problem.

Victor Rodriguez, in seventh grade at East Rock School, has had internet trouble, too. “When I lost connection and could not join my class,” he said that it “got me a little bit nervous and scared because they may have been learning something new.”

Even teachers get frustrated with the internet.  As a PE teacher, Ms. Glickman said that sometimes if she opens a tab, “I will get booted.”

Online learning can be frustrating and exhausting. For some students, not attending school in person also affects their mental health.

At my school — as at East Rock and other schools across the city — we take a Social Emotional Learning class. In this class, we get assignments from the central office to help students understand how they feel. It helps us express our emotions. During one class we had to create a project on how to deal with stress.

I worked with a friend to make a video on coping mechanisms. This gave us a chance to talk about this universal feeling and to put our own spin on it and make it fun. Carolyn Ross-Lee, school climate coordinate for New Haven Public Schools, said meaningful actions come when “you are willing to make a change.”

Whenever I feel down, hanging out with my friends helps.

School is a really important place to socialize. Not being able to attend in person is forcing us to find new ways to stay in touch and lift our spirits.

After school I always get an email from my best friend containing a link to a Zoom meeting, and an instant relief passes through me no matter what. Whether it was the best day of my life or most stressful, I know that can connect with my bestie over a call, even if it’s not the same as seeing her in real life.

Hanging out distantly outdoors, having Netflix parties, outdoor movie nights, or sometimes even getting or sending a text or an email are great ways to stay in touch with your friends during this time.

We can do this!!! We’re in this together.

We can do this!!! We’re in this together.

Doing something as simple as stepping back a few feet from others and wearing a mask can make a huge difference in decreasing the COVID-19 cases in New Haven.

Hopefully not too long from now, students in New Haven Public Schools will be able to raise our hand for our teachers to see, not through a screen, but right in front of them.