The Look of Next Year

There’s good reason to hope for a more normal 2021-22 school year.


Lucie Flagg

The first day of the 2020-2021 school year seems like just yesterday, but we are already at then end of another school year.

Michelle Hwang, Staff Writer

Last September, students and faculty alike walked into NASH with little idea on what the coming school year would bring. There were periods of isolation and confusion, of rapid change, and towards the end, moments that resembled life as we knew it before the pandemic. As a school and as a community, we endured through it and stand again at the close of one year and the precipice of another. 

However, the drastically different look our lives have taken on from March of last year will create a drastically different school life next year. As of now, a comprehensive team of teachers, administrators, health experts, and family members have been hard at work discussing and planning out what the 21-22 school year will look like. And although many things remain in the works, there are a few pieces of the puzzle that Dr. Dirda can confirm. 

For example, North Allegheny Cyber Academy will continue to exist next year. Based on a recent survey, about 50 junior and senior students expressed interest in the cyber academy. That calculates to about 25 out of the 750 students in the junior class.

“We are still working through what NACA is going to look like,” NASH Principal Dr. Dirda said. “What are the courses that will be offered? How will our teachers be educating students in that NACA cyber academy environment? The final details of what it will look like have not been finalized.”

Apart from the cyber academy, remote learning will continue to have a presence in classrooms, albeit a much smaller one.

“Nothing emulates the in-person face-to-face instruction and the connections that you build,” Dirda emphasized.

However, COVID-19 has showcased the potential of online learning and its advantages, especially in unavoidable circumstances.

“We are going to be shifting away from the [remote learning] model,” Dirda added. “But also, knowing that things come up, somebody may have an ACL surgery scheduled or have a college visit out of town — it will be more on an extenuating circumstance type basis as opposed to just the norm.”

Inside the school halls and classrooms, North Allegheny will continue to follow guidance from the Allegheny County Department of Health. However, regulations will be much more lax.

“Next year, it’s more than likely that things are going to look much more similar to life prior to the pandemic,” Dirda said.

Procedures in the cafeteria during lunchtime, such as the spacing of both students and tables, are still under much review. But within classrooms, Dr. Dirda disclosed, “I’m not anticipating that we are going to have a lot of guidelines and restrictions in place.” 

As for the much discussed mask mandate, there are no final decisions. However, judging from the COVID-19 statistics released by the county and how close the school was to lifting the mandate earlier in the year, Dirda confirmed that NA is “definitely closer to lifting it” rather than keeping it in place. 

In addition to the academics of a school, Dr. Dirda understands that “[the] other activities are really what build a community and build us stronger together.”

Therefore, the administration is making every effort to ensure that traditional school events, such as music concerts and football games, happen next year, while in accordance with the county’s health and safety guidelines.

“Athletic events, extracurriculars, dances — our hope is to be able to start next school year with having all of those events on the district calendar and be able to host all of them in some capacity,” Dirda said. 

One of the most welcomed changes of this past school year was Wellness Wednesday, and this has not gone unnoticed by the administration. The wellbeing of students and staff and the NA community’s collective recovery from the pandemic will be a strong focus of the administrative teams in this coming school year.

“I am not anticipating that it would be every week, but we’ve learned through the pandemic the flexibility of the schedule and how we can incorporate that wellness piece,” Dirda said. 

In just a few days, all of us will walk out of NASH’s doors. Some of us will continue on to the next great stage of life, and some of us will return in just a few months. For the teachers and students who will walk back through those doors in the fall, the ensuing school year will be unexplored terrain. However, it is not a position we are strangers to, and as uncertain as things may look, there is an overlying sense that it is safe to hope for the best. 

“We are proud we are of how our students and our staff have responded through extremely challenging times,” Dirda said. “We are hopeful to bring a sense of community and unity back to NASH in the fall.”