Day One: A Blended Beginning

A&E Editor Morris Raskin recounts his first—and only—day of blended learning.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Morris Raskin

Two hundred four days ago, I walked out of the quintuple doors of the Chambers Street Bridge, heading home after staying at school late for the second day of The Spectator’s Spring Recruitments. Tensions surrounding the coronavirus seemed to have built up to a new high, and I feared that I might have to isolate from my friends and classmates for a few weeks as we weathered the storm. Now, just 15 days before our next set of recruitments, I walked through those doors once again and entered into an unfamiliar world.

Following the arrows on the floor (each one reading “One Way For Social Distancing Please” in a blocky font), I made my way to the ID scanners, a once-familiar sight made daunting due to the sheer emptiness of the foyer. In place of the usual hordes of students waiting in line to print assignments, stacks of recent newspaper issues, fundraisers, and bake sales, there were two tables, one filled with COVID-19 protective gear (masks, thermometers, gloves, etc.) and the other filled with pre-bagged school breakfast. I took a mask from the first table and scurried away, feeling pressured by the unfamiliar silence.

I briskly made my way across the second-floor hallway, up the escalator, and toward the Third Floor Gym. I didn’t see a single soul as I made my way through the school; it might as well have been after-hours. I didn’t find any release or comfort once I entered the gym either, as the same stiffening silence filled the room. Pacing up and down the aisles, I eventually came across my seat: E-45. Somehow, E-45 felt like the most random seat to be assigned in an already highly sporadic setting. I was surrounded by empty desks on all sides, save for a student at a desk diagonally behind me (about 11 feet from my back, if my math is right).

I steadily unzipped my backpack and pulled out my laptop, headphones, and a notebook. Every time I rustled a paper, or unzipped a pocket, it felt like the whole room turned to look at the student causing such a ruckus, even though most students were already mid-class at that point. I carefully opened up my laptop and logged in, turning the brightness down to the lowest setting in an effort to conserve battery life. I had an aching feeling that my computer’s WiFi wouldn’t work without a fight, which was proven true as soon as I hit enter on the password for “ncpsp.” After about 10 minutes of typing and retyping, I mustered up the courage to request assistance, an act that would require me to perform the daunting task of talking out loud in the silent and empty room.

While my WiFi issues were being dealt with, I logged on to my first class—health—from my cell phone. The flaws in my computer-less health class plan began to present themselves immediately, as we were instructed to access a (computer-dependent) Google Slides questionnaire program to participate in the lesson. While I was never able to log on to the Google Slides, health class came to a close soon enough, and somewhere in the mix, my computer was granted access to the school WiFi. Additionally, I requested to change seats in between periods, which allowed me to relocate to a corner of the gym—a spot near one of the few outlets in the room.

With a charging computer, semi-functional WiFi, and an ever-so-slightly more private spot in the gym, I began to fall into the regular motions of the school day. My second period of the day, AP U.S. History, went by with very few hitches. While I was unable to print out the daily note sheet that my teacher posts before each class, I could generally follow along with the conversation and take notes on the content I was able to hear.

While the WiFi was passable for what one might think a public school is capable of, video and audio consistency on Zoom were mediocre at best, and audio cuts were frequent, almost always followed by a rapidly sped-up version of what the speaker had said. Minor inconveniences like these were frequent throughout the day, but the school managed to avoid catastrophe through a combination of lowered expectations and generally competent oversight.

A pleasant distraction from the static nature of the day were the occasional visits from Principal Seung Yu himself. About three times throughout the day, the principal made his rounds through our third-floor gym, walking over to each student and giving a thumbs-up or air fist-bump before exiting once again. I couldn’t help but imagine the to-do list of Principal Yu’s first real day at Stuyvesant High School, likely consisting largely of presenting positive gestures and verbal affirmations to an unreceptive student body of strangers. His visits, however, were much appreciated, and inspired some confidence in the system and routine that, by period four, felt elongated past belief.

After my following class, Spanish, I pulled out a pre-packed everything bagel and started to eat. I couldn’t help but feel as though every chew was excruciatingly louder than the last. The sound of every bite echoed like a gunshot in my head, as I tried to swallow each piece as quickly as possible. I only ended up eating about three-quarters of it before abandoning the effort altogether, surrendering to the grating buzz of the overhead lights.

After a chaotic debrief of my day to the Spectator Editorial Board during my 10th period class (a process that felt disjointed due to my general inability to hear what was going on in the Zoom in real time), the day was over. I couldn’t decide whether it felt like a lifetime or a blip, but either way, the school day had come to a close. I gathered my belongings and quietly crept out the door, cementing the fact that I wouldn’t end up talking to a single classmate for the entirety of the school day.

I couldn’t help but feel slightly deflated as I made my way down the three-to-two escalators; my grand return to the great Stuyvesant High School was more mundane than I could have pictured. While mundane was likely the safest option for both my classmates and me, I couldn’t help but long for the bare minimum of a basic conversation or minor interaction.

However, the day was not done. Instead of following the corporate arrows right back out of those quintuple doors, I diverted my course toward the second floor’s Student Union room, where I ventured into the Spec office in search of print copies of The Spectator that I might be able to put out on the stands for students venturing into or out of the school. After a confused FaceTime call and a few box-opening mishaps, I found the newspapers, grabbed a few handfuls, and proudly made my way back into the main lobby. Somehow this act of breaking free from the direction of the arrows and meandering into an office to pick up newspapers felt like a small rebellion in its own right, even though I’m now confident it wasn’t.

After re-stocking the stands, I wandered out of the building onto the Stuyvesant bridge and made my way over to the CitiBike dock. Despite being completely sedentary for the majority of the day, I felt exhausted, though perhaps fatigued is a better word. Despite having a groundbreaking air, my day was at best uneventful. While I will likely not be returning for more blended days for the semester, I do feel some reassurance knowing exactly what I would be missing out on. Stuyvesant’s blended learning plan proved itself coherent and functional on opening day, and while it certainly didn’t hold a candle to the state of Stuyvesant seven months ago, it is sure to be a safe haven for the students who need it most.