Schools Across the Nation Navigate Students’ Return


Courtesy of Wilkes Barre School District

Students play (pre-COVID) outside of Wilkes Barre.

Lydia McFarlane Staff Writer

When schools closed in March, they were not expecting to cancel spring sports or, more importantly, hold graduation virtually. Many schools, especially public schools, were caught off guard and scrambled to find a plan that would work for the rest of the year.

Even now, half a year later, many schools continue to struggle with the process of reopening. In areas where the coronavirus is still spreading rapidly, schools have decided not to open their campuses and continue with virtual learning for the foreseeable future. Other schools took the jump into reopening their campuses for in-person learning while adhering to the CDC’s reopening guidelines. Still, others fell in the middle of virtual and in-person learning.

Like many colleges and universities this fall, many elementary and high schools are attempting a hybrid plan for their students. All summer, administrators worked hand in hand with the state education departments across the nation in order to safely welcome students back to school, or in many other cases, figure out a way to successfully conduct virtual learning. The decision that administrators were forced to make was no easy one.

Erik O’Day, a history teacher at Elmer L. Meyers High School in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., says of this decision, “I certainly think school districts are trying to have ‘in person’ schooling for all the right reasons. It is just simply hard to navigate what is right when you are in the middle of a public health moment like we are in right now.”

No matter what way the schools welcomed students back this fall, there will undoubtedly be struggles to get through. Teachers everywhere are facing new and unexpected challenges daily, such as O’Day.

“Ironically, taking attendance does take more time than usual. In this first week that has been my biggest drawback,” O’Day said.

Heading back to school during a pandemic has made simple tasks much more difficult. The district that he works in has reopened following a hybrid plan. The students had three choices for back to school: in-person, virtual or cyber (which is outside of the district itself). Students who chose virtual were given normal class schedules and are “in class” with their in-person peers. Teachers are teaching two groups at once: the students in-person and the students on their computers.

Although some districts opened back up to some extent, many others did not. Many students across the nation started school in their bedrooms. 

J. Benjamin Reilly is a sixth-grade student at Rice Elementary School, which is part of a district that decided to go completely virtual for the first few months of this school year. 

For Reilly, the best part of online school is that “the lessons are easier. I don’t have to do too much work, but I am still learning.” However, on the downside, he said, “I miss being able to see my friends. I wish I was back in school so I could see all my teachers and socialize.”

While there are many difficulties accompanying the back to school season this year, students and teachers are still glad to be back in the classroom, whether in-person or online.

Aidan McFarlane is a junior at Elmer L. Meyers High School who chose the in-person learning option.

“The best part about being in school is seeing all my friends again… although it is difficult to focus in class with half of my classmates being virtual,” he said.

The positives have been outweighing the negatives for most, and students hope to be able to finish out the rest of their respective years in person.

No version of back to school looks normal this year, but teachers, students and administrators around the nation are trying to make the best of it. This is the new normal, and many students, as well as teachers, seem to be accepting it. 

Diane McFarlane, the senior high guidance counselor at Elmer L. Meyers High school, gave an encouraging message to everyone returning back to school, whether it be face to face or virtually.

“We… are pioneers in this adventure, and one day we can hopefully look back with pride on our patience and conduct during such an unprecedented time,” she said.