NYC Schools Reopen After Closing in November
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Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all public high schools will reopen on March 22. Stuyvesant will continue its blended learning model where students who come into the building will be placed in cohorts and receive remote instruction. The blended option is currently available only to students who previously signed up during the opt-in period in November of last year.
Using the same blended model from the fall, Stuyvesant plans to ensure a safe transition to blended learning with proper safety precautions, such as daily health screenings, temperature checks, and building cleanings, mask requirements, and COVID-19 testing mandated by the Department of Education. “This time around, any student who’s blended needs to submit a consent form for testing. That’s going to be a requirement. We’re going to be doing weekly testing [...] for at least 20 percent of students and staff who are in the building,” Principal Seung Yu said.
In addition to being a school, the Stuyvesant building also serves as a community center in collaboration with the Battery Park City Authority, making the reopening important. “With the progression in safety measures, they are eager to reopen and open up the facilities to the community, and we have to work with them,” Yu said. School construction projects, such as escalator revampments and auditorium lighting improvements, will soon be underway.
However, the timing of the announcement came as slightly unexpected. “While we were in expectation of returning before the end of the school year since the mayor and chancellor indicated their intent to reopen high schools, we did not know the timing until just minutes before it was in the media,” Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram said.
Senior and Student Union (SU) President Julian Giordano believed that the date of the reopening, March 22, was a deliberate choice to assess the status of schools as students returned. “It’s a week before break, and what’s helpful with that is that students are going to return for a week. Then the DOE is going to have that week of break to see how did that go? Are cases rising? Were schools successful? Then, schools [are] going to have the opportunity to [...] make changes over the break that can be implemented afterwards,” he said.
With the announcement, many responded positively, given the difficulties of remote learning. “Students are struggling a lot with their mental health this year, and I think part of it is just being isolated from your friends and from your teachers and just having that real social interaction that comes with being in school,” junior and SU Vice President Shivali Korgaonkar said. “In that way, [schools reopening] is definitely super good for those students, especially for those who have felt the burden of COVID-19 extra hard.”
Giordano said, “We expected it, and what we have seen in the news and in the world and from what other schools have been doing is that [COVID-19] is not really spreading as much in schools as in other places [...] Schools are extremely important, not only for students to learn but also for their mental health and their emotional health.”
The introduction of the COVID-19 vaccines, especially with the increasing number of teachers receiving them, has increased the confidence of many in returning back to school. “New York is doing better,” sophomore Alexander Lopez said. “In fact, my entire family except for my sister is vaccinated. I got my vaccine two weeks ago, so it’s been good.”
Some, however, wish that students who are currently in remote learning will be able to opt into blended learning. “I am not seeing why they wouldn't let people switch just because obviously with the vaccine now, [COVID-19] is not as big of a problem as it was in the fall, and some of those people may actually want to be in school and do blended learning,” senior Chloe Liu said.
Many are hopeful for such a change. “I know a lot of Stuyvesant students who are in the remote model want to switch to the blended model, and I am hopeful that after a week or two of the model as it is with 300 students coming into the building, we will be able to open up the option to get more students to come into the building,” Giordano said.
With the return of going to school in-person, many students are looking forward to socializing with others. “My main motive for going back to school now would be to be able to see my friends because [of] senior year. I would like to see my friends before we graduate,” Liu said. “If I am not able to see any of my friends, there isn’t really a benefit.”
Lopez said, “What online school misses is the small things [...] Commuting on the train and saying ‘hi’ to your friend on the subway train. It’s [the] nice small conversation instead of waking up 10 minutes before class and getting on Zoom, so maybe if we could get some of those small moments back it would be very beneficial.”
Others wish that they could interact with their teachers in-person, though they acknowledge the limited extent due to the blended learning model. “The reason why I wanted to go back to school is because there's an assumption that you get to talk to the teachers. But one, the teachers aren't going to be in the building, and two, you are still going to be on Zoom. It’s no different—just a bigger room,” Lopez said. “They can’t tell from a Zoom if everyone is extremely dead, or they can’t adapt to a certain student [...] There are small subtleties that teachers do in class that they just can't do in Zoom.”
The administration acknowledged the tradeoffs of the blended model. “Who wants to come into a building and be in front of the computer all day?” Yu said. “But everyone needs something different. Not everyone has a quiet place at home. Not everyone has access to the Internet. There are tradeoffs that everyone has to make.”
Yu emphasized having strength during a time that does not cater to socialization efforts easily. “It’s not going to be perfect. It’s not going to be what everyone is accustomed to pre-pandemic. That’s just not the world we live in anymore. It requires everyone to have a little bit of courage,” he said. “It’s not like you can just bump into someone in the hallway and strike a conversation. It takes a lot of intentionalities.”
The administration hopes to accommodate the schedules of students to allow for more interaction. “We will continue the same learning model with blended students coming in five days a week,” Ingram said. “We anticipate grouping students as much as possible by free and lunch periods and affording as many opportunities for socialization, planned games and activities, and outdoor opportunities away from screens as possible.”
While many details still need to be clarified, Giordano emphasized safety as a priority when reopening schools. “There are a lot of open questions right now. The DOE’s announcement doesn’t answer all of these, but now that sports are allowed to happen after school, what about clubs? What about activities that happen inside of the school building?” Giordano said. “Our priority is, throughout all of this, students’ safety and also supporting students academically and socially and emotionally.”
With the pandemic having lasted a full year, many see school reopenings as a sign of optimism. “The fact that schools are reopening is an indication that conditions are improving, and we hope that trend continues and leans toward a return to greater openings for socialization and more opportunities for bringing celebrations to fruition for the Class of 2021,” Ingram said.