Students return to campus

(Photo by Kelly Croke)

By John Biagi, News Editor

Students were allowed back on campus for full days of in-person learning on Jan. 19 after an “adaptive pause” of two weeks of remote learning. Since then, administrators have been developing plans to safely maximize the number of students learning at school. 

“The first week, we had a little less than a quarter of our students coming in, and I think that was really promising,” Associate Principal of HR and Instructional Operations, Dr. Iris Smith said. 

During the week of Jan. 19, a range of 355 to 525 attended in-person classes. Class periods one, two, seven, and eight were the most populated, accommodating between 378 and 525 students during any given class period. Administrators want those numbers to increase.

“We are continually thinking of ways to bring more students into the building safely, and continuing to monitor the numbers [of students] coming in will help us do that,” Dr. Smith said. “Then we can increase that list of classes that have been combining more and more students.” 

A more regular schedule has proven to positively impact attendance. In the fall when students attended half days of in-person classes, a more dramatic drop in attendance was seen.

“The biggest difference from last semester to this semester is that students are here the entire day…it’s more normal,” Dr. Smith said. “I expected the [attendance] numbers to drop a little but not as much as they did for the half days we had in November.”

Students and administrators agree that in-person learning resolves some operational problems of remote learning.

“I decided to go in-person because it’s difficult to learn at home with so many distractions around me,” junior Sam Andreolas said. “Being able to talk to my teachers face-to-face is much better than trying to communicate over a laggy Zoom call.” 

Keeping students safe and preventing the transmission of COVID-19 at school have been main priorities of administrators. Staff members take student temperatures, and students fill out self-certification forms and sanitize desks between classes to follow safety guidelines. 

“I feel good about the precautions that Maine South is taking,” Andreolas said. “Having to fill out a daily form about your health allows for detection of any possible new COVID cases, and cleaning the desks after each period also helps.”

While some students have taken this opportunity to attend in-person classes, others have opted to stay remote.

“I decided to stay remote because the national and local numbers of coronavirus [infections] were still high,” junior Neil Meer said. “I didn’t feel the gains of going in-person outweighed the risks.”

Students at home avoid the risk of infection and see convenience in the adaptive learning environment. Commute times, cafeteria lines, and busy passing periods are nonexistent in an online setting.

“I have the same books, teachers, and exams as the in-person students,” Meer said. “Sitting at a desk in front of my teacher is not much different from sitting at a desk in my home in front of a screen of my teacher.”

However, remote learning isn’t ideal. “The disadvantages are more distractions and less interaction with my peers,” Meer admitted. 

Administrators recognize that flexibility is necessary given the pandemic, but they see value in having more consistent student attendance. Teacher lesson planning would be simplified and learning would be enriched by regular attendance.

“We like that it is flexible; there’s some good and bad to that,” Dr. Smith said. “It would be a richer and more meaningful, consistent learning experience if we could have the same consistent number of in-person students that [attend]. We understand the different reasons that [students stay home].”

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