By Amanda Dronzek
The COVID pandemic has inhabited our world for just over a year, altering our everyday lives forever. Social distancing and mandating masks in most states has changed the way we communicate and socialize, and it’s highly expected that this won’t stop anytime soon. Public schools have remained open throughout the year, many going by a hybrid schedule with half the student body (last names A-KL) going into school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the other half (last names KL-Z) entering the building on Thursdays and Fridays. Mondays were previously labeled asynchronous days for all students and teachers, but now they’ve become another in person school day.
In the fall of 2020, the thought of this process succeeding was out of the question. Hybrid was a hypothetical plan that was assumed to go haywire, however it proved to be effective and a place of low spread for COVID. As for teachers and students, the stress of completing a school year half in person and half online has without a doubt, been a struggle for all. With the rate of vaccinated educators and parents surrounding East Greenwich increasing, the school boards are expecting to return to full in person learning, with all students coming back in together for the first time since April of last year. All parts of Rhode Island have seen an uptake in cases and quarantines, which has created some questions as to when it will truly be safe to send children back full time.
Teachers at EGHS have seen the chaos of teaching classes half the size, essentially in half the time. Learning through a screen has proven to be a temporary fix, but in the long run may not be the most adequate substitute for students who are used to coming into school five days a week. Many educators have taken to reevaluating their entire teaching plans for students to receive the full academic experience that they would have in a normal year.
History teacher Mrs. Garno has concluded that teaching really can’t return to full normalcy as long as the pandemic is still lurking over us.
“COVID has completely changed my teaching style. Now, I stand in front of the room, lecture to a room and a computer and try to add anecdotal stories to keep students engaged,” Garno explained.
In years before the virus, Garno’s main way of teaching was by having students collaborate and entertain each other’s ideas, rather than give lectures. Although things have started to look up, Garno agrees that education really can’t be the same it used to be until students can sit next to each other and not fear a pandemic outside the classroom.
Following a chat with Garno, English teacher, Miss Bryer shared her experiences regarding COVID and its effects on learning.
“Covid has, without a doubt, changed the way I teach day to day,” Bryer said. “I have become infinitely more aware of my students’ (and my own) mental health and social-emotional learning and well-being.”
Bryer predicts that masks will remain a part of our lives the way they have been since 2020.
“Uncomfortable and irksome though they can be, it’s a necessary measure to stop the spread and keep the school community safe. As we move to more widespread vaccination and herd immunity, I hope we will be able to return to relative normalcy in schools in the coming few years.”
Since the summer, it’s been a mystery as to how to combat COVID in schools. Many teachers within the schools weren’t entirely sure what the school year would map out to. Chemistry teacher Mrs. Woulfe admitted that she was surprised how well the hybrid plan went, as it’s been almost an entire school year without having to fall back into full distance learning.
“I was given the impression by administrators that they figured we’d be doing a lot more distance learning this year. Now it’s April and we haven’t gone home!” exclaimed Woulfe.
Woulfe has changed her teaching plans from hands on learning to independent trackers, which has been a success with her students.
“I think I will keep this system going forward, but I will encourage students to do more on paper, such as pass out your notes and handouts first, instead of only providing them digitally. I’m hopeful that by next year the clinical trials for teens will be over and most of you will be able to be vaccinated. Fingers crossed, maybe we can start to put the masks away.”
With high hopes coming from the EGHS staff and positivity flowing through the community, the collective efforts of doctors and administrators throughout the past year could bring us back to normalcy.
The unknown still remains at our feet, and there isn’t a whole lot we can do to know what’s going to happen in the future. Garno, Bryer, Woulfe, and many other teachers have recently been fully vaccinated or vaccinated at some capacity. All have experienced mild symptoms that reenact the flu in different ways, and all have collectively agreed that getting vaccinated is well worth a couple days of melancholy. Throughout the past year, students have suffered unfortunate feats surrounding COVID, such as losing parts of athletic seasons or being contact traced. However, teachers have also been shown the hardships of the pandemic and its lasting effects. The social connection that educators and students can share is one that is crucial to understanding and building students’ academic excellence. Being unable to get to know students the way teachers have in the past is a detriment, and has drastically affected all high school students. The least we can do to prevent further losses of development is to follow protocols and stay protected.