By Sarah Hanlon

Nantucket High School (NHS) officially returned to fully in-person learning on May 5th, eliminating the hybrid option that had been available previously, though some students remain fully remote in Cohort D. All students in Massachusetts in grades K-5 would return to fully in-person learning on April 5, 2021. On April 28, all students in grades 6-8 returned to in-person learning. Until May 5th, NHS was committed to keeping 6 feet of distance between students in the school building, but with the return to fully in person learning, this is not possible, and so the old guidelines have been replaced with a mandatory distance of 3 feet. While this has generated fears of potential increased spread, it is now the national standard in schools. Students are still required to keep 6 feet of distance during lunch, when their masks are off. This required some ingenuitive planning on the part of NHS, and as recently as spring break, the administration was not sure how it would be handled, but they have managed to arrange lunches in a way that makes this possible. 

Nantucket Public Schools has already started to make this switch, with the Nantucket Elementary School and the Nantucket Intermediate School already following their fully in-person schedules. Though the Public Schools will be switching to in-person learning, there will still be an option for students to learn remotely. However, it is all or nothing: fully in-person or virtual, no hybrid. According to statistics presented at the latest school committee meeting by High School principal Mandy Vasil, roughly 15% of NHS students plan to remain fully remote once school returns in person. However, the school is looking to bring these numbers down, and Vasil is personally reaching out to certain students who she believes should be in person that are considering remote learning. 

The time frame of school days will remain the same as they are now, with Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays running from 7:50 am – 2:20 pm. Wednesdays will run from 7:50am – 11:50 AM as an early release day for cleaning. However, Wednesdays will now be in person and not remote, as all 5 days of the school week are mandated to return to in person instruction. According to Vasil, many families expressed the desire to keep Wednesdays virtual, but with state guidelines, this was not possible.

NES has successfully been fully in-person since April 5. NES Principal Kimberly Kubisch noted that “making this transition to 5 days per week has been fairly easy, and we are thrilled to have most of our students back in school.” Many of the classrooms were already large in size so it has not been a problem to fit the students who were previously working remotely, at school in person. The number of students who were working completely online was very few as many were in cohorts A, B, or C. This meant that most kids were already used to the new routines that come at the beginning and end of class periods. 

Kubisch also notes that “I am super excited about everything! Seeing our students so engaged and happy in the classrooms, seeing them working hard on their class work—learning to read and write, become mathematicians, etc., and having them tell us they are so happy to be back has been so uplifting.” She is also hopeful that new vaccines and protocols will eventually lead to more collaboration between students when doing their schoolwork. 

NIS has had a similar experience with their switch to in-person learning. The teachers at NIS have been working hard to try to give students a unique experience at school, and many have been coming up with creative lesson plans in order to teach their students. NIS Principal Evemarie McNeil shared, “Many of our classes are now able to use outdoor learning spaces and engage more readily in outdoor learning experiences without leaving anyone behind on the computer. For example, a fifth grade teacher brought her students outside for math where students used sidewalk chalk to draw visual models of fractions to solve problems.” Like many people have noticed, McNeil added that online learning was difficult for many students as it felt as though there was some sort of disconnect. Being fully in-person has allowed many students to feel some sort of normal again, and get used to a schedule similar to that of previous years.  

CPS returned to in-person learning on April 28. Unlike the elementary school, CPS needed to make some slight changes to classrooms in order to safely fit every student. This also had an impact on lunch periods, as many students eat lunch in their classrooms rather than the cafeteria to ensure everyone can keep a 6 foot distance. CPS Principal Michael Horton tells that sometimes students feel as though they are disconnected from their teachers and peers when learning online. Horton explains, “I am happy that all students are able to return to school fully in-person on 4/28 if they want to. I am not a fan of remote learning: the novelty has worn off and we are seeing students struggling to participate and complete work through remote. Students need in-person support from their teachers and more chances to work together with their peers.” 

NHS staff worked hard over break to prepare the school to hold returning students. Like CPS, small-scale changes were made to various aspects of the school such as distancing in classrooms. NHS Principal Mandy Vasil expresses “I’m excited about seeing students who have been remote for the year and getting to know more students. I love the energy that having students in person brings to the school.” 

All schools agree that throughout the returns to fully in-person learning, it is important to remember the necessary safety protocols that come throughout the school day. Sanitizing work spaces, wearing a mask, and washing hands regularly are all important routines that need to be continued in order to ensure the safety of students and faculty members in the building. 

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