Hybrid students in class wearing masks and sitting socially distanced. (Noah Pavelich)
Hybrid students in class wearing masks and sitting socially distanced.

Noah Pavelich

City Goes Back to School

October 19, 2020

Students and teachers from all the high schools in the district are working together to make online schooling work. Students might have English with a teacher from West High one period, and math with a City High teacher the next. Classmates come from all three schools, leaving little room for school rivalries.

For students in the online academy, the end of a class period is signaled not by the ringing of a school bell, but by the quiet end of a Zoom call. Hybrid students pack up their things at the end of the school day, saying goodbye to City High until next week. Questions are asked in emails and fumbling attempts to speak in class without interrupting someone else.

“It is very hard to assist students in the online world. We are doing our best to reach out and create interventions to help kids,” Scott Jespersen, City High Assistant Principal, said.

As of Tuesday, September 8, City High students have begun online learning in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The online model is set up to spread out classwork throughout the weeks. On Mondays and Wednesdays, online students attend synchronous classes in the morning and work asynchronously in the afternoon. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the opposite is true. Fridays are structured such that students can quickly check in with all their teachers and get any assistance they need.

In the beginning, the idea was that students could choose between hybrid and online learning from the get-go. However, the number of COVID-19 cases in the county prompted the district to enforce online-only learning for the first two weeks of the school year. First trimester is intended to be somewhat of a trial run for students – they can decide to switch between hybrid and online at the end of the trimester, or continue with the method they chose to begin with. This new remote model has brought with it quite a few changes, for better and worse. 

“I miss seeing my friends in person and general social interaction with other students. It’s still weird to see my classmates in the Zoom grid rather than in real life around me,” Heidi Du West High ‘23 said. 

Du appreciates having extra free time during her asynchronous class periods. However, she has found that it’s harder to ask questions and keep up when teachers move too quickly.

“During class, if I don’t understand something it’s hard to ask the teacher about it during the moment. Emailing teachers to get help is harder for me because you can’t get as good of a response as you can in person,” Anna Gayley ‘22 said. 

Gayley has found herself losing focus and developing cabin fever due to how much time she spends inside on Zoom and Canvas.

“Because the trimester started late, I feel like the homework is piling up, but I’m getting used to it,” Kento Yahashiri ‘23 said.

Yahashiri has enjoyed the quieter classroom atmosphere, finding it easier to work without as many distractions. 

“[Classrooms] being quieter is a benefit, and teachers have more control over the classroom environment,” Yahashiri said. 

Students and teachers alike have found challenges unique to online and hybrid classes, as well as things they like and appreciate about these models. 

“Both the online and hybrid program have their respective strengths and weaknesses.  For me, the strength of the online program is the consistency in the schedule.  Seeing students three times a week on alternating days allows me to check in more regularly with them than the more sporadic hybrid schedule offers.  Relationship-building and opportunities for socialization, a key component of the teaching and learning process, probably occurs more naturally in the hybrid setting,” Jason Schumann said.

Schumann is a history teacher at City High. He teaches both online and hybrid classes. Schumann has found a small drop in students’ overall engagement and performance in his classes since switching to the online/hybrid model. He attributes these few percentage points of lost productivity to increased barriers put in place by lack of instructional time and issues with technology.

“I have had a few issues with technology. It can be difficult for everyone as we’re trying to adapt to an entirely new system. The internet isn’t something you can predict, there’s always going to be random issues and new problems to solve,” Misha Canin West High ‘22 said.

Canin has found various ways to make navigating the new online system easier for her and does not want or intend to go back to school in person. 

“Planning out my days and following a schedule helps me stay motivated and on track… I try to wake up around the same time each day and follow the asynchronous/synchronous schedule as closely as I can. I love spending time outside or moving my body in the morning before classes, it wakes me up and helps me feel motivated for the day,” Canin said. 

Hybrid learning began on Monday, September 28. This decision was made based upon the Iowa City COVID-19 positivity rate dropping below 10%. 

The hybrid model separates students into groups A and B. Students with last names A-K attend school on A days, while last names L-Z go on B days. Mondays and Tuesdays are set A days, and Thursdays and Fridays are set B days. Wednesdays, which have become early dismissal days, alternate between A and B days weekly.

“In many ways, the job of teaching has become more demanding this year.  Whether it is small changes, like becoming more proficient with a spray bottle and wipes, or bigger systemic changes, like the creation of multiple new curriculum delivery models, the rapid transformation of some of the essential functions of the job have been pretty daunting,” Schumann said.

Schumann teaches his hybrid classes in the mornings, leaving afternoons for online classes. He has found this structure to be greatly helpful, as it organizes his days comprehensively.

“[Hybrid] takes a little getting used to, but it seems to be more enjoyable than online,” Chase Loftus ‘22 said. 

Loftus much prefers being in hybrid classes than just online, as he considers the hybrid system to be improving with time and experience. Nevertheless, he doesn’t want to continue online and hybrid classes after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“People are doing the best they can [to social distance]. The overall school environment is cautious and kind of quiet,” Loftus explained.

Many students and teachers have appreciated being able to return to school in person and see one another face to face, but others see it as a risk that’s just not worth taking. 

“I think that as long as I have the resources to succeed and am able to stay motivated learning online, it’s safer for me and my community [to] do that,” Canin said. 

Amidst a slew of uncertainties, it can be difficult to predict the way things will turn out. However, teachers and staff are dedicated to students’ needs and their success.

“We all need to be a team and face these challenges together; no one in our community is alone,” Jespersen said.

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