Q&A: Students Weigh in on School Responses to COVID-19

Illustration+by+Edan+Zinn+%2723.

Edan Zinn

Illustration by Edan Zinn ’23.

Grace Papas

No matter what type of school students attend, students are feeling the affects of COVID-19. 

To gain insight into how different schools are responding to the pandemic, The Gator recently interviewed Shreya Mehta ‘23 from Weston High School in Massachusetts, Jake Beckwith and ‘22 and Sab De Guzman ‘22 (who responded via email) from Daniel Hand High School in Connecticut, and Brimmer student Marlie Kass ‘23. 

How has your school structure changed since COVID-19?

Sab and Jake/Daniel Hand High: We are doing the hybrid model. At the beginning of the year it was Monday-Tuesday for Cohort A—people with last names from A-L—and at home for those days for Cohort B (M-Z) Wednesday was for the custodians to deep clean the school. Thursday-Friday was Cohort B in school and at home for Cohort A. Now, we’re alternating between one cohort having to go to school on Wednesday per week.

Shreya/Weston High School: We have two options now: hybrid or remote. Remote is your standard sort of school from home on the computer. And for the hybrid days, we have two groups; the Bobcats and the Lynx (the school mascot is a wildcat, and the teachers thought it would be funny). My cohort has their hybrid learning on Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesdays are sort of like half days, but it’s mainly where we meet for clubs and student government, but remote. 

What does a typical day look like for you now?

Shreya/Weston High School: There are two kinds of days. School starts at 8:45, which is when the Zoom starts. It depends, but sometimes a teacher needs both cohorts there, like an assembly or seminar, there will be a Zoom link ready. So after that, we get asynchronous work; just worksheets and papers to get done and we have fifty minute time blocks for that. You have four blocks for four subjects in a day, so those end at 12:45. We have a lunch break until 1:45, and then we have the actual classes on Zoom to discuss the school work. And for hybrid, school starts at 8:45, so you need to be in your classrooms by then, and we have fifty minute classes in the standard in-person model, and the third block is a ten minute mask break outside or in the auditorium. And we finish the day at 12:45 so that’s nice. 

Marlie/Brimmer: Every morning, while I’m still at home, I’ll check my temperature, and fill out the online safety form. Then, I’ll get caught up on some work, or log in if there’s a morning meeting on Zoom I need to attend. One of my parents will then drive me into school, which is a big difference as I used to take the train in. When I’m at school, I’ll wash my hands, get my sticker, etc., and head to my first class. Then I’ll have two or three periods, lunch, and two more classes. One of my parents will arrive to take me home. Lately, I’ve had rehearsal for the play as well. I log on as soon as I get home, and spend two hours on that. If I need to stay at school for any reason, I will, and just do rehearsal on Zoom in a classroom. 

In your opinion, what is the most noticeable or most impactful difference made to your school?

Shreya/Weston High School: One huge difference I’ve noticed is the amount of work assigned during our blocks. I think this is because work isn’t as structured, and it’s more a teach-yourself kind of thing; you work on your own time and stuff, which isn’t good if you’re a procrastinator. Honestly, the workload is a lot because the teachers need to cover everything. 

Marlie/Brimmer: The biggest difference for me is the social distancing in the classrooms. We used to all sit in one big group, or at a couple tables, together. Now, every student has their own desk in every class. I’m also in different classrooms than I would have been due to spacing. For example, I now have math class in the theater. 

Has your social life been affected through your school’s adaptations? If so, how?

Jake/Daniel Hand High: Being social within school boundaries has taken a big hit. I can’t just sit next to my friends and chit chat with them. Instead, they’re six feet across the table from me.

Shreya//Weston High School: Basically a lot of my friends are in the other cohort, but I’ve been making friends in my cohort, which is nice, and our classes are pretty small these days, so you can really connect with people. But for other people in the other cohorts, you have to schedule time to meet outside of school or meet online and it’s hard to make the effort to do that. 

Q: What have your schools done right when it comes to their response to COVID-19?

Sab/Daniel Hand High: When it comes to responding to COVID-19, our school is doing a good job of cleaning and trying to help students with online classes and stuff. Social distancing is hard to enforce so cleaning is a bare minimum. Lately the school has been trying to lessen the stress that students have to go through by teaching us good coping habits and stuff!

Marlie/Brimmer: They’ve done a great job in making it feel safe, but still comfortable. With all the regulations, I know I am safe, but not isolated. They are also good at easing us in and giving us choices if we don’t feel safe. Kids can still choose to do a virtual day, if that’s what they feel safe with, and we have at least one day at home a week. 

Is there anything you feel that they could have done better?

Jake/Daniel Hand High: I think they could be better about making sure people walk the right way in the halls.

Shreya/Weston High School: I think a lot of what they’ve done is pretty half-baked. I mean, it’s taken a lot of time and effort, but the communication skills have not been there. Everything is so confusing, and they’ve failed to properly communicate. And they assume that everyone reads that tiny little newsletter they send and that everyone knows what’s going on, but obviously that’s not the case. 

Marlie/Brimmer: I personally find Zoom very exhausting at this point, so I find it hard to pay attention or do my work during our day at home. Maybe they could take that into account and make it more of an asynchronous work day. However, that’s more of a personal thing, as I know some of my classmates do like the Zoom day. 

How do most students you know feel about these structure and/or classroom changes? 

Jake and Sab//Daniel Hand High: A lot of people I know are okay with the changes! We all understand that this is the most they can do for us but we wish that the workload was lighter since we are all already stressed. The school simply telling us to manage our time better won’t work.

Shreya/Weston High School: Most people don’t really know if these changes are for better or worse– it’s still tossed up in the air. I’ve talked to a lot of people, some find it positive to have your learning more self-directed. But there are people that think there’s too much work, and not a lot of people are good online learners. Learning through Zoom is very different, but hybrid isn’t really enough– the work difference, the teaching difference, it’s all there. 

Have your schools offered help to students who may feel more stressed or overwhelmed? 

Jake/Daniel Hand High: Yeah! Recently we had meetings in small groups with counselors to talk about coping with stress and taking our input on how the school can best accommodate us and stress.

Shreya/Weston High School: We have these TEC blocks, where we have tutors for every subject to help us with our work. And we have “strategy” blocks for kids with ADD, ADHD and other things like that who need a bit of extra help. And we still have our guidance counselors, but that aspect hasn’t really changed. Teachers always talk about mental health and tell us to go outside, but with the amount of work they’re giving that’s not possible.

How have your teachers handled the classroom changes?

Jake/Daniel Hand High: Not awfully, though I’d say they seem to have a bit of a hard time adapting to the changes. It could definitely be worse though, and who hasn’t had a hard time with this pandemic?

Sab/Daniel Hand High: The teachers are trying their best! A lot of the time technology really doesn’t work and even then we don’t even speak or participate in class, so I can’t even imagine how they’re feeling right now.

Overall, how are you feeling about coming back to school?

Jake/Daniel Hand High: While I may see all of these changes as negative, I do know this is all done to keep everyone in attendance safe, and that’s better than what we were doing before.

Marlie/Brimmer: I’m really happy to be back in school. I think Brimmer has been doing a great job to keep us safe, but still keep the community together.