Features

Blended or Remote: Which Will It Be?

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Issue 1, Volume 111

By Angela Cai, Christine Lin, Rachel Vildman, Mahirah Khan 

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on July 8 that all schools would follow a blended learning plan, meaning that students would receive a mix of in-school and at-home instruction. With the school year rapidly approaching, parents and students are now faced with a tough decision: should they stay home and risk missing out on in-person instruction? Or should they go to school and risk carrying the coronavirus home?

Many students believe that safety should be Stuyvesant’s top priority. Senior Jonathan Chen, part of the 64 percent of Stuyvesant students who opted for complete remote learning, chose remote because it allows for complete safety. “I don't want to risk putting myself and vulnerable family members in danger,” he said.

Others support fully remote learning for its academic benefits. “The major reason I wanted fully remote when it was first proposed was that it was the safest option and also allows for all the classes, including electives, to be maintained. I thought it was a win-win for everyone,” an anonymous junior added.

But “all classes” is not completely accurate. Though most classes have been salvaged, 25 percent of course offerings have been cut this year. Most math courses past AP Calculus, for example, have been cut from the curriculum. Senior Xian Jun, who has also opted for remote learning, feels that it is unfair that his schedule doesn’t have a math course. “Math is such an integral part of education,” Jun said. “Although it’s my last year at Stuy, it’s upsetting that the school is putting a cap on the level of math I can take.”

There are other students who feel more assured about returning to school. Sophomore Eduardo Lozano, for one, is not very concerned by the potential medical threat posed: “Safety is not really a worry of mine because of course everyone is interested in that. [Returning to school] is more than safe,” he said.

Senior Jonathan Xu, though he chose remote learning, seconded this sentiment: “New York has been doing a good job with controlling the pandemic compared to other states.”

Lozano’s only concern regarding the blended system now is that the blended model is only going to use five spaces in school: the library, the cafeteria, the auditorium, and two gyms. “It’s not ideal. Also, it’s 70 people in a bigger room versus 30 people in a smaller room. That’s like the same thing,” he said.

Chen, though he won’t be participating in blended learning, shares this concern about the model: “How can we maintain effective social distancing in just a handful of large rooms?”

On the other hand, Chen acknowledges that the new exception model does have its positives. “I am a fan of the eight-day schedule,” Chen said. The eight-day model Chen refers to consists of a schedule in which each of the blended cohorts partakes in two consecutive days of in-person learning every eight days. “Fifty percent of coronavirus cases develop symptoms in five days. The eight-day [schedule] will make it more likely to detect coronavirus infection before students return to school for the next cycle,” he explained.

While most Stuyvesant students are able to take into consideration their prior learning experiences at Stuyvesant when selecting their fall learning plan, the decision between remote and blended learning is especially difficult for freshmen to make. For freshman Yashna Patel, starting high school is an opportunity to build new, meaningful relationships. “I chose blended learning because I thought that it would be easier to make friends that way. Establishing relationships with my peers is important to me, especially since I’m such a social person,” she explained.

However, while the school’s safety measures like the eight-day cycle and mask-wearing help prevent the spread of infection, the real danger might not be in school itself, but on the commute to school. History teacher Lori-Ann Newman explained, “We are the largest school district in the United States whose students and teachers rely heavily on public transportation. So before each constituent has even walked through the door every morning, there are potential health and safety issues in the transportation routes of each person that are beyond the control of the school and DOE administrators.”

Furthermore, it's not just the students’ safety that’s a major concern, but also the teachers’ safety. Many feel that it’s unfair that teachers are forced to attend in-person classes. Senior Meril Mousoom said, “It’s important for us to be taught by people who actually want to be there and are motivated to go to school every day.”

Mousoom recently testified as a speaker for the Panel of Educational Policy, also known as the New York City Board of Education, calling for a delay of in-person learning. Being a vocal activist, Mousooom encourages her peers to educate themselves and become more involved in making decisions regarding their own educational policies. “It bothers me that so many students are unaware of the policies being implemented right now, especially since this plan is literally for us,” Mousoom explained.

For instance, most students are unaware that the DOE is still scrambling to put together a comprehensive plan for remote learning. “The board is still hiring nurses, and it's only a couple weeks until school,” Mousoom said with frustration, noting that nurses need at least six weeks of training before working at school.

Given what’s going on in other states, Chen feels that the threat of another wave of infections and, consequently, a return to all-remote remains very real. “The current plan looks effective at keeping students safe, but it will only hold if everyone plays their part,” he reflected when asked about the sustainability of the current plans.

Regardless of which model one chooses, Chen emphasized the importance of virtual social activities such as counseling check-ups. “The lack of in-person socialization in both models can take a toll on mental health as I experienced last semester. When quarantine first started, I thought going remote would increase my productivity. I was mistaken, and without a strict schedule, I tended to fall behind on assignments,” he said.

While neither the blended model nor full remote model is an ideal learning situation for any Stuyvesant student, one thing that everyone can agree on is that there is no right answer. With all the uncertainty created by this pandemic, no one knows what the future holds.

Still, Chen remains optimistic: “We've seen this past spring that teachers will find creative ways to adapt their teaching methods to different time routines and to the online platform. I have faith that our teachers can continue those same standards of teaching this semester.”