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Cold Classrooms and Warm Community: The East Side Student Blended Learning Experience

by Tigerlily Theo Hopson

Two months ago, East Side Community High School opened its doors after six months of sirens, quarantine, and the Coronavirus. Students finally reentered the colorfully painted halls, but this year school will not be the same— masks muffle student voices, the smell of hand sanitizer and disinfectant fills the air, and desks are positioned six feet apart.

Now, as the COVID-19 infection rates rise and New York City schools face a second closure, it is important to evaluate if these past weeks of students coming back to school have been worth it. Forty-two percent of East Side students are enrolled in blended learning. What has been their experience? Do students feel safe coming into school?

“I feel very safe going into East Side,” 9th grader Nicolau Berscheid said. “I actually feel safer at East Side than anywhere else I would go into.” Students generally voice a feeling of safety within East Side’s walls. Before entering in the morning, students have to show they passed the DOE Daily Health Check survey and have their temperature taken. Inside, the building is kept clean and well ventilated, there is hand sanitizer around the school, and desks are wiped down after each use. “This is the cleanest I’ve ever seen desks in my entire life,” 9th grade student Raki Dia said.

Mask wearing and socially distancing is said to be enforced. Mateo Fischer, who is a freshman, acknowledged, “I think the East Side staff does a great job with the precautions because I never see any kids with their masks off or like hugging each other or getting too close.” Pamela Abreu, another 9th grader, shared a similar sentiment: “Everybody is safe and everybody treats everybody else with respect.”

Other students however had some safety concerns. Annabel Sexton-Daldry, a 12th grader, said that she feels slightly uncomfortable students can step out in the hallway and remove their masks, and stated that sometimes substitute teachers, “Don’t have their mask on, or take it off, or don’t take it seriously, and I’m like what?”

Matilda Molina, who is a senior, described some students who “think it’s funny” to take their

mask down often for no apparent reason. “It gets me frustrated because as a person that is a bit high risk for getting COVID it’s a bit scary when someone takes their mask down for nothing,” she said.

Yet, most agree that overall East Side’s staff and administrators are doing a fantastic job not only keeping students safe but also making school still feel fun and engaging. Aidan Lam, a student in 12th grade, said, “They make it feel safe yet like you're still in school and learning.”

“My experience going into school has been pretty fun so far,” 9th grader Aaliyah Horton agrees. “Teachers are keeping the environment nice and happy, and so far I am excited to learn when I go into school now because it's such a good environment. It feels like we are family.”

Felicity Acevedo, who is in 12th grade and is in the building three times a week from 9:30 or 10:30 to 3:05, said that although it is hard to stay focused for so many hours without a break, “Teachers and staff have done an amazing job keeping students from going back to remote learning.”

Other seniors with a similar schedule long for a lunch break. “I do get really really hungry,” Daldry admits. “On the days when it is like 10:30 to 3:00 that is rough.” The DOE policy is

that no one can leave and return to campus, but bagged lunches are offered and students are encouraged to bring snacks. However, many students find it hard to find time to eat and long for some time outside during the day. Mia Forbes, who is another senior, said she would love it if East Siders were allowed to go out to lunch. It would be helpful to have “more fresh air and something to eat in between the hours of 10:30 to 3:00 where we have back-to-back classes.”

Another complaint was the temperature of classrooms. To have proper ventilation all the windows are open, but as winter approaches the cold air makes the rooms students are trying to learn in fairly frigid. “One thing they could do is heat up the school a little more especially because it gets colder by the week now,” Forbes stated.

On Wednesday, November 18, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced all New York City public schools would shut down the following day for a “undefined period of time,” since the seven-day average rate of positive COVID-19 test results had passed 3 percent. Mayor de Blasio said on Monday that middle and high schools will stay closed until the new year.

Twice before the city-wide shut down, East Side had to close to stay in line with DOE regulations— once at the beginning of October and again on November 16th. Both times were because two students or staff at East Side tested positive for COVID-19 within seven days of each other. Blended students transferred to remote until the building could reopen.

Students have mixed feelings about if the rising COVID-19 rates should cause all schools to close down. Many said they would feel heart-broken by a school closure, while others feel like it is a necessary precaution. “I don’t want schools to close down because it feels like we’ve already been through so much, and we were like taking steps forward but now we are taking steps backwards,” 10th grader Dechen Ballantine Kaplan expressed.

Forbes agreed that schools closing would be a let down, but notes that, “I wanted to go

back to school and see my friends and have it be the way it used to be, but that’s what the problem is, until the virus blows over there is no ‘going back to how it used to be.’ Closing schools may make it harder to focus in class and get assignments done but in order for all of this to end, everyone should probably just stay home for the time being.”

“I kind of think schools should close. We saw what happened last time,” Daldry said. She has contemplated switching to remote for “a while now,” but doing so would mean she may not be able to switch back and that she would have to change her advisor and those she has grown accustomed to seeing every day. If the schools choose to close, she could stay officially registered as blended, but not have to risk going into school while the rates are so high. “I’m kind of scared,” she said.

There is no doubt that East Side Community High School has had to greatly adapt to meet the new precautions and norms of this time. Like anything, it's blended learning option is not perfect, but its teachers and administrators do everything to make it as close to perfect as possible. Much uneasiness and many questions still exist, and will continue to exist, but one thing is certain: East Side is a strong community, in-person and online, and we will continue to take care of each other.

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