Pandemic Schooling

Lily Botelho

Since March 2020, both students at SBRHS and around the country have rapidly experienced many different types of schooling than normal. Somerset Berkley ended the 2019-2020 school year with asynchronous assignments and sporadic virtual classes, started the 2020-2021 year fully remote before transitioning to hybrid, and now looks to begin in-person classes four days a week on April 12th and five days a week on May 17th. The rapid transition from years of fully in-person schooling to suddenly experiencing a myriad of different learning styles begs the questions: are these alternative methods as effective as in-person schooling, and can they possibly be integrated into future school years? The coming aftermath of the pandemic leaves opportunity for change in all facets of life, but should the school system be part of this?

When the pandemic took over in March of 2020, nobody was prepared for such an abrupt switch to remote learning. The high school chose to continue classes fully asynchronously with work sent out at the beginning of the week and due at the end.  “In the beginning, there was not much guidance on how we needed to proceed,” says Mr. de Matos, a World Language teacher here at SBRHS, “As a teacher, we want to control every moment of our classes and it was difficult to give up that control to allow students to learn in such an independent way.”  Many students found this method of learning confusing and ineffective. “I feel like we never moved on from where we left off in March. I barely remember anything that happened during that time,” says current sophomore, Stella Fernandes.

After the summer, Somerset Berkley returned to school fully remote. Students and staff went from learning and teaching asynchronously to having a daily schedule with Google Meets for every class. Whether or not people actually liked remote learning at all, most can admit that it was a definite step-up from asynchronous school. Having a concrete schedule and time for instruction allowed learning to work more efficiently.  “We had already been exposed to teaching remotely. We had plenty of time to prepare for the return to school during those two weeks of professional development time that was given to us,” says Mr. de Matos about the return to school. Some students thrived under this method of learning and chose to learn this way for the rest of the year. Stella Fernandes was one of these students. “Going back to school didn’t really feel fully safe to me, but I tried hybrid anyway. What I realized was that I wasn’t learning any better than I was while I was at home. Remote just worked a lot better for me.” Although many considered remote school better than asynchronous, it still was not effective for many students and even teachers. “Teaching to a fully remote class was a big adjustment for me. Teaching from my empty classroom made me feel isolated from my fellow teachers and from my students,” said de Matos. “There is an energy that I get from having students in the classroom and it felt like I was unplugged from my power source.” Lots of students also felt unfocused and disengaged from school when learning from home.  For these reasons, the introduction of hybrid schooling in October was a relief to many.

The transition into hybrid learning began in late September and lasted into early October. Students and teachers alike were eager to finally learn in person again, getting one step closer to how school used to be. Although many liked the in-person interaction that came with hybrid, it still wasn’t a perfect solution. “Given the current situation, hybrid classes give everyone the opportunity to participate in a way that they would have never been able to before. I think that there are still plenty of things that can be improved, but we can continue to work on those setbacks to focus on making this experience better in the future” explained Mr. de Matos. Many students also felt that hybrid wasn’t perfect. “Hybrid is definitely the best option for me, but I don’t necessarily like all aspects of it,” says Jacob Botelho, a current senior. “A lot of my friends are in the other cohort and school in general just doesn’t feel the same.” Some teachers also found it challenging to teach to both remote and in-person students at the same time. “It is a challenge to modify and create new activities that are fully inclusive. Some assignments that might work fully online, may not necessarily work with a mixed group of students in a hybrid class” said Mr. de Matos. “This has given so many teachers the chance to be creative and develop new ways of teaching and learning that have never been seen before the pandemic began.”

After months of hybrid learning, Somerset Berkley is beginning its transition to in-person school five days a week. Starting on April 12th, the building will be open for all in-person students four days a week, with Wednesdays continuing as remote, until May 17th when all five days will be in person. The option to stay fully remote remains open, but the half-and-half option of hybrid is now fully gone. While many are excited by this next step towards “normal school”, there are still some concerns to be had about the safety of having that many students in class at once. Although the CDC says schools can safely reopen, some people still have their own concerns. “I do have my concerns because of the amount of people that will be in and out of the building,” said Mr. de Matos, “but as long as everyone adheres to wearing a mask properly and maintaining the social distancing guidelines, then I don’t think we will have a problem.” Overall, most people are eager to have students back in the building. “I am excited to see a return to full-time in-person learning,” Mr. de Matos says, “Having students in class provides so much more energy for the learning environment and will make the school feel more complete.”

With this return to mostly in-person learning and hopes for 100% in-person school next year, the myriad of different learning styles is coming to an end. Out of all the different techniques both students and staff have experienced over the pandemic, do any of them have potential to be integrated into future school years? Many seem to think so. “I hope that we will be able to incorporate remote learning for snow days and for those students who may be sick, but are well enough to participate in class” explained Mr. de Matos, “This does open the door for so many opportunities that come with distance learning.” Although losing snow days and sick days may seem bad, longer summers and no make-up work are definitely a plus. There are endless opportunities for future integration of remote learning techniques into future school years. Do not let this experience of pandemic learning pass like it never happened. Let’s use it as an opportunity to make school better.