Schooling In The Corona Age

School districts around the area have all had the shared difficulty of planning a school year during a pandemic.

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photos by Anthony Durzo & Mya Bolinda

The traditional school experience now varies for every student depending on their school district and personal preference.

In mid-March, COVID-19 stopped the world in its tracks. Schools across the country shut down to implement a new and safer version of education: online school. The remainder of students’ school year was a computer screen. However, many optimistically believed that by the time the 2020-21 school year started, traditional school would be up and running again. 

Oh, how wrong they were.  

While a highly contagious virus is still spreading without a vaccine, how are thousands of students supposed to return to a single building?  Well, through very careful and strategic planning, school districts have had to make difficult decisions on the best way to approach this school year.

“I was nervous about starting school because I didn’t like not knowing what to expect,” junior Gena Chick said. “Everything was going to be so different.”

North Allegheny has given students two choices for schooling this year: hybrid or North Allegheny Cyber Academy. The hybrid model has students with last names starting with A-L go in-person on Monday and Tuesday. Then, all students are home Wednesday, and students with last names starting with M-Z attend in person on Thursday and Friday. While the students are not in the classroom, they are participating online school through Blackboard Collaborate. Alternatively, NA Cyber Academy is a strictly online route where students learn through a home school setting.  

However, many optimistically believed that by the time the 2020-21 school year started, traditional school would be up and running again. Oh, how wrong they were.”

“I enjoy the self-paced aspect of online learning, but I’ve missed seeing my classmates and teachers,” junior Hannah Oldham said.  “The hybrid model is helpful in combining the positive aspects of both learning avenues.” 

Some neighboring school districts have created similar plans for navigating COVID-19. However, one local district, Mars Area School District, has no hybrid option. Students can either go to school full time, participate in LSI (their online version of regular school), or attend Mars Cyber Academy.  

The lack of a hybrid option is not a worry for students at Mars. 

“I agree with what Mars is doing this year because all of the options provide a safe space to learn,” said a Mars student who asked to remain anonymous. “The staff and students are following all of the precautions so far, so I think what Mars is doing will work year round.” 

Pine-Richland School District and Hampton Township School District both have created an option for students to proceed with hybrid learning this school year along with fully online options.  

While a highly contagious virus is still spreading without a vaccine, how are thousands of students supposed to return to a single building?”

While Hampton and North Allegheny have produced a very similar hybrid system, Pine-Richland has decided to have an “A” and “B” day schedule where students go to school every other day. Students with last names starting with A-K attend in person on “A” days while students with last names starting with L-Z attend on “B” days.  

Pine-Richland junior Maggie Allwein said, “It’s difficult because a lot of my friends are in the other group. I really like what NA is doing with the day off Wednesday. I think that is really beneficial to not only the students but staff as well.”  

Fox Chapel Area School District has a hybrid system similar to that of Pine-Richland’s, but their students and staff are home on Wednesdays.

“The school chose to make Wednesday a day everyone learns from home, so the school can do a deep cleaning in the middle of the week before students return,” Fox Chapel junior Gabby Bell said. “I feel the district has been really careful with following all the guidelines and has put safety as a top priority.”  

Hampton’s approach to hybrid learning is set up the same way as North Allegheny’s, which seems to be well liked among the students.

“Although attending full-time would be ideal, I recognize that the pandemic cannot be taken lightly, and this is the best way to protect students and staff while still allowing much needed in-person interaction,”  Hampton sophomore Aja Lynn said.

Some other districts in the area have made the decision to start the year off with full time alternatives: exclusively in-person or online.  

North Hills School District has determined to keep the first five weeks of school strictly online after an in-person first day for students. The completely online start to the year has come with its pros and cons.

North Hills junior Mya Bolinda has discovered that one of the biggest difficulties is related to technological errors.

“Being on Zoom for nine periods straight is very hard because it drains the iPad battery extremely fast,” she said. “Zoom also glitches a lot, sometimes so bad that it will kick you out until it gains a better connection. I would rather work in person because it is way more reliable than online.”  

However, Bolinda also understands the health benefits of online learning. 

“I think for safety reasons it’s better to be cautious about heading back into the building,” she added. “So virtual is probably better for right now. We have barely had any cases so far.”

Schooling in the age of the coronavirus is not a “one size fits all” solution.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum, North Catholic High School is allowing students to go full time in person if they prefer.  

North Catholic sophomore Paulina Bradley believes her school is up to the task of prioritizing safety while returning to school.

“I do not want to make things unsafe by going to school everyday, but North Catholic has a big enough school and small enough population that it works out very safely,” Bradley explained. “I understand how hard this is for many of the bigger school districts. My school has created special areas to stand when waiting for lunch, and they strategically added another lunch period to spread people out.”  

In a time of uncertainty and constant change, the best possible solution is not one that can be created quickly or without aid. Schooling in the age of the coronavirus is not a “one size fits all” solution. Each school district has produced an individualized plan for the safety and betterment of their students and staff.