Remote, hybrid, altered in-person options considered for return to school
June 8, 2020
Looking forward to the 2020-21 school year, three possible options for the Laboratory Schools’ structure are under consideration: an altered but in-person structure, a continuation of remote learning, or a hybrid between the two.
The high school administrative team has begun early stages of planning across the Laboratory Schools to coordinate schedules where students could stay mostly separated from each other. However, nothing certain can be said until there is a clearer picture of the coronavirus pandemic impact will look like by late summer. The administrative team is also collaborating with other schools to work out a plan.
“Because of the schedules, the way we think about time not only impacts us but other schools,” Noah Rachlin, dean of teaching and learning, said. “There are faculty who teach across schools, and there are families who have students in multiple schools, so what we want to do is make sure that the way we’re thinking about things in our school also works with the way other schools are thinking about their schedules.”
While many schools in the United States remain closed, schools in Germany have reopened and many restrictions have been lifted. As of late May, Germany reportedly had the eighth most cases and deaths for COVID-19.
Rosa Leuz, a tenth-grade student at Goetheschule school in Germany, near Frankfurt, and said the schools have been managing the school openings really well and the risk of infection has been low. The hygiene standards require that the students have the same desk every day and the windows are opened to allow air to circulate through the classrooms. Less than one-fourth of the students are in school at the same time.
Susanne Pralle teaches German at Lab and coordinates the German American Partnership Program for the German exchange trips.
“They have staggered the class, too, so not everyone is in the hallways during passing periods as well,” Ms. Pralle said. “Everybody is ending at a different time and German schools mostly do not have lockers because of the different class system.”
While this may seem like a risk, the school’s precautions ensure that the students remain physically separated. If students have pre-existing diseases or medical conditions, they cannot come to schools. Also, if a teacher is over age 60, pregnant or nursing, they cannot come to school either. The stairways are split between up and down so the students stay apart.
In these early stages however, it is unclear whether Lab will take these same precautions in fall of 2020.
Rosa said, “All classes were divided into half (group A and group B) and chairs setted with distance. So every group goes to school every second day — for example, Monday group A, Tuesday group B, Wednesday group A again.”
If Lab were to take this approach, scheduling and the positioning of students would have to be taken into account. Throughout the summer, Lab administrators and faculty will continue to plan and collaborate for the uncertain future.
If coronavirus continues to keep Chicago at home, Lab will continue remote learning. Students will get their assignments through Schoology and meet synchronously using Zoom or Google Meet.
During spring 2020, surveys were given to students through Google, in order to get feedback about remote learning.
“We have heard from the feedback we have been given a real improvement in communication with student’s understanding our schedule with more consistency which leads us to believe that things like a single template and monday morning posts and systems that create predictability and consistency are really valuable so we try to think about maintaining that consistency,” Noah Rachlin, dean of teaching and learning, said.
An issue with remote learning has been student’s ability to cope with stress according to the surveys.
Rozalyn Torto, music department chair, said that next year they would attempt to continue to teach music first and direct the ensemble second. They would also continue to assign projects with topics from music history to theory.
In preparation for a continuation of remote learning Lab administrators and faculty will continue to assess student feedback.
If coronavirus decreases over the summer, some Lab students may continue remote learning while some may be doing in-person learning. This would require a schedule that gives all students the time at school they need to learn but is also consistent enough with levels of coronavirus continuing to change.
In Germany the schools started out by taking a hybrid approach. They gave top priority to students who needed in-person learning most.
“One of the things Lab may need to prepare for with a hybrid or reopening I think the important thing is flexibility. One of the things that Germany is discovering is that with people coming together you will get many spikes again. So Lab should be prepared for the infection rate to go up,” world languages teacher Susanne Pralle said.
At Lab, this approach might raise problems about all students getting an equal experience and the coordination of dividing students and faculty consistently. However, if coronavirus becomes less of an issue over the summer, this approach will be preferable to fully remote learning.
Altered in-person learning
While by no means normal, this approach will allow students to come to school as long as they maintain social distancing. This poses some potential difficulties maintaining distance between students especially in the hallways. However, the importance of going back to the routine of in-person learning cannot be denied.
It is really important to open the schools because not all parents can work well with kids at home and not all parents can be good teachers, Rosa Leuz said, and remote learning is widening class and gender gaps. She added that not all children and families have the same home situations or opportunities. Some students don’t have the option to use a computer, some students may need to babysit their siblings and don’t get help if they need it.
Lab is still in the earliest stages of making plans to keep students separated. However, while the rate of COVID-19 cases seems to be lessening, coronavirus will still be a problem in the fall and school may have to stay remote.