Stuyvesant’s Blended Learning Problem

After months of remote learning, Stuyvesant’s blended learning students are having trouble settling in. And the school isn’t helping.

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By Laurina Xie

New York City’s public high schools reopened on March 22 for all blended learning students. It is clear that Stuyvesant’s “blended” learning system is more remote than it is in-person: students bring their computers or devices to school and participate in the same online classes, except they are in the Stuyvesant building. I knew I was not returning to “regular” in-person school just yet, but I was still excited to go back. After spending my first semester in Florida, I finally had the chance to set foot in Stuyvesant for the first time in over a year.

Upon arriving at my assigned seat in the cafeteria, I discovered that someone else was already sitting there because we had been given the same seat assignment. First period had not even begun, and there were already organizational problems, but that was the least of my concerns. The cafeteria was freezing and 10 times colder than the air outside, and almost every other student was visibly uncomfortable.

In fact, everyone was visibly uncomfortable in general. We could only hear the whirring of the air conditioners. No one dared to make a sound or stand up from their socially distanced seats, even in between classes or during free and lunch periods. Everyone, myself included, spent their free periods staring at their phone or computer. An e-mail sent to blended students and their parents by Ms. Dina Ingram several days prior had stated that lunch would be delivered to students between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m., but there was no announcement made about food during the day. I did not see a single student receive or eat school lunch. At one point, a staff member walked around the cafeteria chatting with a student. As they passed me, I overheard, “These kids look like they’re freezing. And they all look so scared,” followed by laughter. I do not understand how a staff member, someone responsible for keeping students comfortable and safe, could find our discomfort amusing rather than concerning.

I left school early that day for a medical appointment. When I saw my mother, she immediately noticed how cold, exhausted, and borderline unwell I looked. She did not laugh it off and instead wrote an e-mail to Ingram, asking that I be transferred out of the cafeteria in hopes that the conditions and atmosphere would be better. We then spoke directly to Principal Seung Yu. Both Ingram and Yu were extremely understanding, and despite the school’s problems, I found that the administration was attentive to these issues rather than dismissive. For the next few days, I was in the gym. There were no blaring air conditioners, and lunch was distributed as promised, but the environment was barely better; it remained unpleasant and silent. Everyone still looked like they wanted to go home.

Overall, the atmosphere, especially in the cafeteria, was awkward and inhospitable. Students did not move around or speak to each other. Some were even hesitant to participate in class for fear of speaking out loud. While the school claims to attempt to have advanced socialization, they are not doing enough. Unsurprisingly, most students are not exactly social butterflies, especially since they have not attended in-person classes for months. This lack of social interaction is even more true for the freshmen who have not had a real chance to make friends. If the administration truly wants to help us socialize and enjoy school, they need to understand that we need a bit more guidance than what they are providing. The school must arrange actual activities and opportunities for us to socialize instead of putting us in a room together and expecting us to do it ourselves.

Additionally, Stuyvesant seems to have trouble communicating with students about blended learning. Aside from providing MetroCards, the staff did not interact with us at all, leaving us in the dark about how blended learning was supposed to work. Many seemed uncertain as to whether they could stand up and move around or leave the room at any point. Hardly anyone used the bathroom as many of us were not sure how to ask to go. E-mails and weekly updates can easily be overlooked or get lost in the shuffle of the inbox, so it is crucial that staff members present keep blended students informed. If staff members were more communicative, not only would many more students participate in offered socialization activities, but they would also feel more comfortable and confident.

Transparency and communication between staff and students is the first step to making students feel less terrified to come to school and help the environment feel more welcoming than its present state of cold silence.