By Natalie Mack, Anna Popnikolova, Sam Hofford, Ali Bamber and Lily Remick

Direct link to student’s experiences

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By Natalie Mack

What is the Hybrid Model?

Now that many schools across the country are heading back to the classroom in a “hybrid model,” the question that everyone is asking is “will this be safe?” 

A combination of the local Board of Health, the state commissioner of education, Nantucket School Committee, the district leadership team, and the superintendent, Dr. Hallet decided over the summer that all public schools on the island will be participating in a hybrid model for the upcoming school year. Now, it is October, but only some students have just begun learning in the building. The start date of school was pushed back from its usual early September date to September 16, 2020, to hopefully get a handle on the rising cases on the island before welcoming students back into the building. Once September 16th came around, Nantucket Public Schools pushed back the start date of in-person learning to October 1st but went ahead with online learning in the meantime. As suspected by many, Nantucket Public Schools announced that students would not be returning to the buildings on October 1st. As a result, a new plan was put in place for when students will be coming back into the buildings to learn. This plan was different for each student because it depended on what cohort you were in. The idea behind this was to slowly phase students in based on their different cohorts. 

Similar to many other schools across the country, Nantucket Public Schools decided to separate all students into cohorts. Essentially, these are groups of students that either attend fully in person, half in-person, or fully on-line. As for Nantucket Public Schools, Cohort A attends school in-person on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. For all cohorts, Wednesday is on-line, allowing custodians a day to fully sanitize the schools. Cohort B attends school in person on Monday and Tuesday, and is online Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Cohort C attends school Thursday and Friday, and is online Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Lastly, Cohort D attends school online all 5 days of the school week. Students were placed into these cohorts for a variety of different reasons. Some of them being special education students needs, students with parents who are teachers, students with learning disabilities, students that may be at high risk to COVID-19 or live with someone who is a high risk, parent work schedules, student and/or parent preference, and so much more. Parents and Guardians of NPS students were invited to fill out a form over the summer, requesting which cohort would be best for their student(s) and why. 

Nantucket High School administrators came up with, and were given by the state, certain COVID-19 safety protocols specific to NHS that needed to be followed in order to have in-person learning happen safely. These include students arriving at school at a certain time and going straight to their first class. In past school years, students could arrive at NHS an hour before the first bell and hang out in the lobby or in different areas of the school. Now, students are expected to arrive at school just before the first bell rings at 7:45 AM and head straight to their first class. This eliminates any unnecessary interactions between students. Students are expected to walk on one side of the hallway when going one way and the opposite way when walking the other way. The middle of the hallways at NHS are marked off to reinforce this protocol. As students arrive at their first block class, they are expected to sanitize their hands and their desks with provided materials. Students repeat these rituals when entering each of their four classes per day. Additionally, students are expected to sanitize their desks before exiting each class. These extra precautions are crucial for everyone in the building to follow,to ensure everyone is staying healthy. Each day, whether students are in-person or online, they attend four classes, each lasting 85 minutes, with the exception of Wednesdays, which is an all-online day starting at 8:50 AM and lasting until 11:40 AM. Again, these class times are very different from previous school years. Having just four classes eliminates students from passing each other frequently in the hallways and being in multiple different rooms each day, hopefully decreasing the risk of COVID-19 being spread. 

Principal Mandy Vasil said, “Although we would like to see all students back in the building for in-person learning, I think the hybrid model is the best second option. Students may only be in the building two days a week this way, but it is two days that they will be able to interact with their teachers, administrators, and other students. I believe the human connection is vital for our school’s success.” 

Nantucket School Committee Chair Pauline Proch agreed that “the hybrid model is better than full remote for our students as they tend to thrive when they are together with their peers as well as in-person for our instruction. As for our educators, this is rolling out a whole other list of requirements for planning and instruction. This is not easy for anyone. I think we won’t know truly the impact this is going to have on our children until the school year has ended. What we can do now is make decisions that we believe are the best for the time and situation we are currently in. This is the hardest decision I have had to make while on the school committee. We must listen to all constituents and watch what happens and trust our experts. But how effective will hybrid be? Nowhere near as full time in-person instruction could ever be.” 

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By Anna Popnikolova

Why do some students choose to remain home?

Now that we are yet again nearing the start of in-person learning, more and more students have been choosing a “Cohort D” learning plan. This essentially means that, rather than joining students in any of the other Cohorts (A, B, and C), who will be participating in state-regulated, mandate-following, in-person learning, students in D will be remaining at home, doing remote learning, for the remainder of the school year, or until further notice. 

But, why is this happening? Why do so many students believe it is better for them to remain at home, rather than being at school? 

Safety concerns have played into many students and their families’ decisions. In a Veritas survey of Cohort D students, most students responded that personal safety concerns contributed to their decision, and the vast majority of polled students replied that they are concerned about COVID-19 spread throughout the school district.

That said, well over half of students who responded to the survey stated that their placement in Cohort D was their family’s decision. Many students have parents who are high-risk, or are high-risk themselves. Several are simply afraid of the pandemic as a whole and would like to lay-low until the situation is mostly resolved.

Ellie Kinsella, a sophomore at NHS, spoke about her opinion on remote vs in-person learning. saying. “… I find online school easy and doable, unlike most of my other classmates, so I didn’t see much need to go back to school…” Kinsela also thinks that online learning is safer “just until there’s a vaccine and the virus is under control. COVID will never go away, in my opinion, but we can at least stay online…[until] the risk is much lower.” Many other students expressed similar opinions on the subject. 

However, everyone is aware of the issues that will inevitably arise with full-remote learning. Roughly half of students responded saying that being in the remote cohort was most likely going to affect their learning experience in the 2020-2021 school year. And there will definitely be challenges to overcome. Responses ranged from tech issues and inconsistent Wifi to lack of motivation and prolonged screen time. Too much exposure to the blue light that computers give off can cause headaches, dizziness, and eye damage; which is why the NPS administration gave each student in the district a free pair of blue light filtering glasses, courtesy of the Harvey Foundation. Concerns about teacher availability, schoolwork questions and a lesser quality of education with remote learning have also surfaced. But problems will come up wherever students are. There are issues with both options, there are pros and cons of both situations, and it is up to the individual student and their family, which risks they are willing to take, and which plan works best for their household.

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What are student’s experiences like?

A Difficult Start, by Lily Remick

My remote learning experience was super easy last year because I had little to no work and I had no trouble getting things done. I also had a starting relationship with each teacher and was close to most of them. This September was my very first year of high school and I was bombarded with assignments piled onto assignments, immediate grades, and no free time. 

Along with not knowing a single teacher and starting it all out by deciding whether to keep my camera on or off, another stress for many is technology not working. In the start of this school year we had many issues with computers and technology, and as a school we have come together to solve most of the issues regarding the computers needing updates and more. Throughout the last month I have realized a few things. I have to discover how to learn on my own, I have to strive to be attentive, and I have to learn to advocate for myself through the screen. This becomes true especially when it comes to grades and having questions. Learning on my own has been a strenuous task to face. I am unable to have one-on-one conversations with the teachers most of the time, and I am forced to try to learn at the same pace as my classmates. 

As a student trying to learn through a screen for almost six hours a day, I get faced with the challenge of trying to stay focused on what the teachers are saying and attempting to not get distracted by my phone or even just staring out into space. This can be immensely difficult when I don’t have someone to be able to remind me to stay on task. Advocating and speaking up for myself has also been a task. I can only imagine it must be even harder for students that are shy. I know it also must be hard for teachers to have to learn to teach and grade everything in a new way online. This is very difficult for them because they are used to teaching face to face. This issue has inadvertently caused me to sometimes get “missing work” on assignments and lowered grades on accident in Aspen because of miscommunication via online, in classes, through tech issues, etc. I have had to email and talk to the teachers through the actual Google Meetings, which is teaching me the concept of advocating for myself and maturity. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many individuals in really unfortunate ways, but the pandemic has also brought our community closer. As students we can all relate to our normal lives completely altering and we are all figuring this new normal out together through our safe sports programs starting up, school in the hybrid model, and in even more ways. 

A Steep Learning Curve, by Ali Bamber

At the beginning of the school year, virtual learning was very difficult to navigate. As we got farther into the school year, virtual learning was easier to understand and navigate. Although there are still some things that are difficult, such as staying focused when no one is around to remind you, understanding the technology, not having the teacher physically there to help, and even accessing resources, these difficulties can be solved—although not everyone knows how to solve them. 

There are typically technical difficulties and connection issues while in class which makes it difficult to learn in this way. These problems can be stressful and hard to navigate through virtual learning as no one is there physically to assist you. The social aspect of virtual learning is also hard to get used to as you are not with your friends everyday in the classroom, like many are used to. With each class being 85 minutes long, this can make it difficult to stay focused and on track when sitting at home. 

With virtual learning, no one is there to remind you to pay attention and focus when you get side tracked. At home it is much easier to have access to technology such as cell phones, video games, and even games on your chromebooks. Some might say that virtual learning has been easy to understand, but as a freshman I personally can find difficulty in certain activities. The difficulties I had stated earlier are problems that I believe many students are facing, and some students may find difficulty in the curriculum, especially first time students at Nantucket High School such as myself. 

High school is extremely different from middle school, and the situation that we are all in makes the transition even harder. Although the scenario is not ideal for the school year, everyone is handling the situation extremely well, despite the few challenges that students may face. The hybrid model that the school has introduced this year has been great for students in Cohort A that have been going in person for a while now. The students in cohort B and C have been trying their best to navigate through virtual learner to get back in person very soon. The in person school year definitely brings some nervousness as this will be the first time myself, and my fellow classmates will be in the highschool for learning. 

This can be nerve wracking for some students as they need to worry about navigating the halls while staying socially distanced,  knowing what class they are going to and where they are going. Although there are many downfalls to virtual learning, there are also many positives such as staying safe, not having to worry about wearing a mask for a full school day, and even the simplicity of logging onto the Google Meet or Zoom class when it is time. This eliminates the hallway obstacles as you can stay seated from class to class. While many get breaks in class, in person you’re confined to your seat, while the virtual learners can walk around, get a drink, or even a snack. When at home, you can have breaks between classes when a class is ended a few minutes early, while others in class need to stay present and do not get as much of a relaxation break. These pros and cons can both be nerve wracking as we go through this hard time in our lives, and the virtual learning environment can be a better learning experience for some and worse one for others. These pros and cons need to be taken into consideration in the process of deciding what learning style will be best for you as a student. It is all about perspective.

Pillow Forts, by Sam Hofford

My experience during this age of COVID-19 is a love-hate relationship. As an introvert, I am completely fine staying at home. Avoiding contact with others is a pleasure, and I’m glad to be helping flatten the curve. Many people have definitely told you that they can’t stand staying at home. They long for those extensive human interactions and they would just love to throw away the whole backup stock of face masks. Lucky for me, coronavirus has allowed me to have a great excuse to avoid those people and be productive at home. Personally, I work best alone in silence; in fact, I’m writing this article alone in silence too. Of course help from your friends and teachers is never unwanted, but you can’t deny there is something nice about working from home.  

A daily school schedule usually consists of four classes a day alternating each day so you have equal amounts of time in each class. Because online learning started around early March last Spring, this school year acts as a second chance for teachers to really polish their online teaching skills. I admit they definitely have. Every student’s learning experience really improves as teachers build on their abilities to utilize the technology. You can only learn what your teachers teach, and if not taught effectively and in an engaging way, you will lose the attention of many students.

A key reason why many students haven’t been enjoying online learning is because of internet and computer issues. When using technology, very often there will be a glitch in the system, causing you to have a terrible user experience. A lot of times you can’t even login in time to get to class. You have your books, you have your papers and homework ready, but the meeting or internet just decides it doesn’t like you that day. This has happened to all of us, and is definitely a key downfall of virtual learning. Students would much rather be in class with their friends, masks off, and learning in person. From my experience, learning in person is much more effective. You aren’t at the mercy of your weak computer, and your teacher is there to guide you. I can totally see the benefit of this. 

Overall, in my exposure to online learning, the positives outweigh the negatives. I can never say no to a warm cup of hot chocolate, maybe right in the middle of a physics test. There’s no one next to you that you can hear speeding through the homework a lot faster than you. Finally, who’s stopping you from building an igloo out of blankets for you to study in? No one, that’s who. That’s my experience, and I’m sorry for those of you who can’t say the same.

By Sam Hofford

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