Should High-Schoolers Return to In-Person Learning?

by Adeline Ferolo

Since March of 2020, a majority of PSD-150 students have participated in online learning platforms due to COVID-19. For high school students, this entails transitioning to live online classes through the virtual meeting platform Microsoft Teams. This platform constitutes a majority of a student’s day, from turning in assignments to attending virtual school club events. The online learning option has allowed students to continue their education while limiting their potential exposure to COVID-19. 

Online learning platforms do provide a sense of health security for students and staff members, as no physical, in-person learning is necessary. The concern regarding online learning is the lack of an educational environment—more specifically, the lack of a teacher’s guiding presence, structured schedules, and classroom dynamics. This could potentially limit the amount of material learned throughout the year, as online classes usually operate at a slower pace, mostly due to technical difficulties. 

Alternatively, the Morton District 709 continued their fall semester with in-person learning. This strategy allowed students to continue learning at a regular pace and experience a sense of “normalcy” during these unprecedented times. Yet the health risks are inevitable, especially since Morton High School announced they would not be able to enforce social distance or face masks. Consequently, Morton District 709, as of October 31, 2020, had eleven staff members in quarantine for COVID-19. Additionally, there were 239 students in quarantine, with 22 positive cases. It is important to note numbers continue to fluctuate daily. The culmination of 250 people in quarantine demonstrates the risky possibility of returning to in person learning. Not only do people in quarantine possibly have the virus, but they could also be spreading it to friends and family, as no rigid quarantine procedure is enforced. Additionally, quarantine protocols enhances an irregular learning environment, as half of an entire class could be put into quarantine. The significant increase in quarantine cases not only demonstrates the risk of catching COVID-19, but also magnifies the slow progress within classrooms due to sporadic schedules. 

As we enter the second semester, many schools are reassessing their learning strategies in an attempt to bring students back for in-person learning. According to PSD-150, high school students will return to in-person learning on a hybrid block schedule. This schedule allows half of the students to attend in-person learning, while the other half continues with online instruction. This blended solution has its pros and cons. It could lead to students falling even more behind in material as their routine changes daily, while simultaneously putting them at an increased risk for COVID-19. Additionally, it is important to evaluate the state of COVID-19 at a macro-scale. Though vaccines are being administered, it is expected that not everyone will be vaccinated until the late summer of 2021. Alongside this, new, wildly virulent strands of COVID-19 have been observed in the UK, South Africa, and elsewhere. This could mean a resurgence of COVID-19 in the coming months. The culmination of these factors leads me to conclude that returning to an in-person schedule is hazardous—endangering not only the lives of students, but teachers and administrators as well. If an option is present, I would suggest partaking in an online learning module. 

About Adeline Ferolo

Stories, arguably, are the most underrated form of currency that floods the digital world, through highlighted Instagram posts and viral YouTube videos. As a rising senior at Richwoods High School, Adeline Ferolo aims to express herself and the issues closest to her authentically through engaging, storytelling, and other mediums. She is a competitively academic student. Her interests range across many creative outlets—as an active writer for the Richwoods Shield, the monthly school newspaper, and as a contributor to the youth-led blog EnviroWrite, which explores rising environmental concerns. Recently she has discovered her passion for the medium of film after attending the National High School Institute summer program at Northwestern University, where she had previously studied creative-intensive subjects ranging from sustainable architecture to graphic design. Within the past year, she has focused her efforts on exploring the visual medium in both her academic and personal life, opting to create experimental videos for class projects and continuing to explore different aspects of the visual language.