Schools open in a mostly virtual environment
Studies touting the strengths of online learning have suffered from a self-selection bias in that the treatment group has always been made up exclusively of students who made a conscious choice to use online learning. This fall, in schools across the nation, the treatment group in this experiment has been expanded to students who are being forced to use online learning by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indian Prairie School District 204, based in Aurora, is using an online academy to provide instruction for students this fall, even though parents and teachers said in a survey that all-online learning would be their last choice for how schools would reopen, reported Madison Moon, Michelle Serna, and Ursula Sturgeon in Metea Media, the student newspaper at Metea Valley High School. “Last spring when we had to go to virtual learning, the teachers had already established relationships with the students,” the paper quoted Superintendent Adrian Talley as saying. “This year, we are starting off in a virtual world which makes it difficult, but not impossible to bond with the students.”
According to an article in The Sting, the student newspaper at Chester High School, students are using a mix of technology products for online learning, including Google Classroom and Skyward. Schedules are posted to tell students what time each class is scheduled to meet online for virtual learning.
As with any technology spread out over an entire school district, there have been a few glitches reported, including one where students were unable to sign into Zoom meetings for their first online classes of the new school year at Lake Zurich High School. “It makes sense [that Zoom broke down] because you can’t always do a lot of testing beforehand, so it was kind of expected that there would be some problems,” reporters Sasha Kek and Adam Monnette quoted one junior as saying in The Bear Facts student newspaper. “It’s tough to command this e-learning operation, which is probably pretty stressful for the school. There are lots of details that can be left out on the first day and things that can be unforeseen.”
- At Edwardsville High School, students and teachers tackled adjustments to the hybrid schedule.
- Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn introduced a fully remote learning schedule and reported that students were “returning to the new normal.”
- The lit center at Niles West High School in Skokie is also making use of Zoom, and students told the student newspaper about their experiences with online learning.
The learning community at Libertyville High School reacted to the extended eSchool, with one parent expressing hope for real solutions quickly. “I just hope they are able to look at the science and the data and re-evaluate this decision very soon,” reporters Andrew Brooks, Jasmine Lafita, Ella Marsden, and Elise Stouffer quoted one district parent as saying in Drops of Ink, the student media site at the north-suburban high school. “Give these kids something to look forward to and a real place to learn.”
But ultimately, the future of the pandemic is in the hands of the virus itself. Schools, however, have certainly created plans and timetables for moving forward with the 2020-21 school year, as seen here from Naperville Central’s return-to-learn plan.
A former assistant superintendent and principal at Plainfield East High School received one of 18 National LifeChanger of the Year awards from the Vermont-based National Life Group and the National Life Group Foundation earlier this month. Tony Manville received the Capstone Award this year from the foundation, having been nominated by a colleague, the student newspaper reported in a press release.
Don’t believe everything you read about COVID-19
In what has been described as a “startling and confusing move,” the Russian Ministry of Health issued what is known as a registration certificate for a COVID-19 vaccine candidate that has been tested on only 76 people. The vaccine can be given to small numbers of Russians in vulnerable groups, particularly healthcare workers and the elderly, but medical experts know larger clinical trials are needed before the vaccine can be used more widely. The research hasn’t even been published in any peer-reviewed journals, and Sneha Mittal, editor in chief for The Stinger, the student newspaper at Hinsdale South High School in Darien, explains some of the science behind the Russian vaccine and why you shouldn’t trust it.
Last-minute changes bring uncertainty and anxiety
Late-breaking decisions about how to conduct school this fall have led to uncertainty for teachers and students (and their parents), with some liking the virtual platforms such as Zoom and others recognizing the drawbacks of such a learning environment in serving all students. “Zoom brings out the ‘celebrity’ in a handful of camera-loving students,” a teacher at Downers Grove North High School said in a survey when asked how in-person teaching differs from virtual teaching, “but causes incredible shyness in a lot more students who are suddenly anxious about their faces being on display at all times. Ultimately this brings down engagement for the majority.” The report was filed in the DGN Omega by the student newspaper’s editor in chief, Sam Bull.
And the decisions about how schools would reopen in Downers Grove District 99 came in early August. School officials in St Charles released their much-revised reopening plan, with its total immersion in remote learning, on August 10, just a few days before schools were set to reopen, although the implementation of the remote learning plan was delayed and the actual first day of school was pushed back by about a week in St Charles schools.
- Reactions from St Charles North High School by Bridget Nelis in The Stargazer
- Reactions from St Charles East High School by Jeff Pape and Katie Kempff in The X-Ray
Illinois high school sports
Illinois, like many states across the country, has cancelled the fall sports “season” for most team sports, such as girls’ volleyball and football, posting a revised schedule that will have students playing football from February 15 to May 1, among other changes. Although some seasons have started this fall, such as boys’ and girls’ golf, the high-attendance sports have been pushed back by several months by the IHSA board. Monika Jurevicius, sports editor for The Cutlass, the student newspaper at Palatine High School, reported the change in Illinois.
The scrambling of the sports seasons may seem weird at first, reports Josilyn Wheat for The War Whoop, the student newspaper at Wayne City High School, in an article entitled “Volleyball in the Spring?” She quoted coach Lamar Choate as saying about the schedule change from the IHSA, “I am not crazy about it, but I am not in their shoes. They want to do their best to ensure the safety of everyone: the players, officials, coaches, and fans. I am just glad they decided that we could play at some point and they did not cancel on us. So, it’s just up to us to make the best of it. … Volleyball is played the same way in the spring as it is in the fall and true competitors will compete at any time of the year. I expect us to have fun and compete this spring.”
Politics and the race for the presidency
The virtual Republican National Convention concluded last week, and the virtual Democratic National Convention wrapped up a week earlier. Brendan Burke, associate editor-in-chief for The Prospector Now student newspaper at Prospect High School in Mt Prospect, watched them both and said based on the bipartisanship he witnessed by Democrats and the “schism in the Republican Party” he witnessed from Republicans, “it seems as though this may be one of the most bipartisan elections in our country’s history.”
But why should students or school officials care about politics anyway? That question is answered by columnist Amy Wozniak in The Glen Bard, the student newspaper at Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn. “It is too easy to think politics do not matter,” she opines. “But the truth is, politics has inevitably been ingrained in everything you do. The United States was intended to be a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people. By simply caring, you are able to exercise your right and privilege to be a voice in our political system.”
Streaming hundreds of movies, not all of them good
Jamie Hoxsey reports in The Scarlet Ink at Orion High School that she saw about 150 movies since COVID-19 forced everyone into a bubble, including well-known movies and some that were more underground. “I’m not trying to be some movie snob that will hate on anyone who enjoyed ‘The Kissing Booth,'” she writes. “I just think that there are so many underrated movies that are available to watch if we just opened our eyes.” Hoping to find a few of those, both for her own enjoyment and for review-writing, she puts out a feeler for students to suggest movies she might review, even if they’re frustrating or confusing.
Like high school sports, pro sports look a lot different since the COVID-19 outbreak in March. Sports editor Daniel Garrison at Edwardsville High School writes that the return to pro sports has had “mixed results.” He filed his report a few days ago in The Tiger Times.
And what about non-players who rely on pro sports for other forms of entertainment? Jacob Siciliano, executive producer for The Prospector Now at Prospect High School has some good advice for fantasy football players in a season that will be marked forever by the “400-pound elephant in the room”: COVID-19. “Draft handcuffs,” he advises. Handcuffs are players who are back-ups for top-tier players and would be useful if the top-tier player gets sick. Also, “stay away from rookie receivers and players on a new team … check players’ health pre-game … ask your commissioner to add extra [injured reserve] or bench spots.” Solid strategy.
Balancing parenting and teaching can be complicated
Finally, a feature story about teaching in the pandemic from Kate Gross, feature editor for The DGN Omega at Downers Grove North High School, shows just how complicated the balancing act can be for teachers who are also parents. We can only imagine, but she brings the juggling act front and center in her story.