By Joseph Paola-North Star Reporter Intern
For the first time in over a year, North Attleborough High School has seen students return to the building four days a week.
The change comes after the School Committee voted to start putting students back in the classroom earlier this month. As of now, schools are only open to in-person students four days a week, but the district plans to try and get students back in the classroom full-time in April.
This is a major and rather sudden change for most high school students as there was only two weeks’ notice before the plan was voted on and when it actually went into effect. Concerns from students and parents about safety in the building with the large increase of bodies continue while administrators balance students’ academic success with safety.
Thoughts on going back four days a week
While talking to students about the change in the schedule, the main sentiment seemed to be that they were happy to be in school more, but worried about the number of cases of COVID-19 reported during the week.
“I like being back, I was kind of getting bored at home and it’s good to get out of the house,” Senior Sam Longchamps said. “But I think there’s a lot of people who have come in close contact with COVID.”
The concerns seem well warranted too as there have been nine confirmed cases of Coronavirus this week with over 50 other students getting exposed to the virus and needing to be tested. Junior Rohan Kohli had a different perspective.
“A very similar thing happened at the beginning of the year, where everyone was really concerned when the first few people got cases, but it ended up being OK, so that’s what I hope for this as well,” said Kohli.
The school has changed some of its safety protocols to deal with the influx of students, but they follow state and federal guidelines, including new distancing rules. The CDC last week and said only three feet of space is required between students which supports the positions of the Massachusetts Department of Primary and Secondary Education, and the World Health Organization from earlier this year.
Another major change the school has made is how it handles lunch. This was a big issue for many people as it was a time where maximum distances were required while students didn’t have their masks on. To compensate for the increase of students in the building, the school is opening three additional spaces for students to eat lunch on top of the cafeteria.
North Attleborough High School Principal Steven Haviland believes the school did, “Remarkably well on as many measures we could possibly take…students are cooperative and successful …teachers have shown great leadership.”
The adjustment is a large one for students and teachers alike, but the school hopes the schedule change will provide a better opportunity for students to be successful.
Education during the pandemic
For many parents, students, and teachers the quality of education was a large issue as students had to learn from home for months.
Last March while schools were closing down with no education alternative, many were worried about a “Brain Drain” as a result of students being out of school for so long. Similar worries resurfaced at the beginning of the school year as people were unsure about the quality of education while students were either learning completely through a screen or were only in school part-time.
“I think we all recognize how different learning has been this year because as we teach and learn we have to learn how to teach and learn, we’re building and flying the plane at the same time,” said Haviland. “You know you’re not achieving the outcomes as clearly or cleanly as previous years, but a lot has been given to kids in terms of teaching them decision making and life living.”
The main focus has been on how students are doing in traditional areas like math or English, but as Haviland points out, the nonstandard school year could help to improve students’ skills outside of the classroom like decision making.
For other students, the different school year has allowed them to explore interests outside of school that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Junior Ayden Diel is one of those.
“I have so much downtime in a normal school year where I’m just sitting in class doing nothing but this year, I’m studying art a lot,” said Diel.
While the pandemic has caused many students to be disconnected from their friends, online resources have enabled some to stay connected or reach a larger group of people. For Diel, the pandemic has introduced him to a larger group of artists who offer inspiration and advice for the young artist.
Motivation seems to be the key for students who are successful with online classes. Those who are able to push themselves to do work do fine or even thrive in an online environment, while others need the guidance and push from being in a classroom. Learning at home has forced students to be more independent, and disciplined as not to fall behind in school, which can be hard if you’re not in the classroom.
“I think in some ways (online learning) was good, especially at the beginning of the year, because it forced me to be very organized and independent,” Kohli “But slowly, as the year started to go on I procrastinated a lot more as I got more tired of working the same routine all day.”
Burnout has been another topic of discussion, especially as remote students don’t have the same social release that comes with being in school. Hopefully, this new schedule will help to reinvigorate students to continue to work hard in school.
All the students spoken with agreed that the teachers generally did a great job adjusting to online learning and believed much of the disconnect came as a result of students’ inaction to get help. For students to get a complete online education this year they needed to reach out to teachers with questions and to ask for assistance during times like X-block, a dedicated period for students to get in touch with teachers. Education continues to be a focal point for many, but it might be a while until there is a better understanding of the effects of the pandemic on education. The state’s standardized test, MCAS, was rescheduled for this year so that there might be some better data on the impact of pandemic learning.
While some students like Ayden seem to thrive in the online learning environment, the majority seem to need the structure of school in order to be successful. The goal of reopening the school is to ensure the social, emotional, and academic well-being of students.
The increased awareness of mental health
Mental health has taken center stage during the lockdown as more people are concerned about its effect on students while they’re disconnected from school.
North Attleborough High School has taken the initiative this year to make mental health the priority. The creation of the Green Bandana Project earlier this year and the establishment of an Active Minds chapter within the school are two major attempts to make sure students are mentally well.
“We recognize mental health is an issue for teenagers, our beliefs is that the single greatest thing we can do as a school is to destigmatize mental health, more kids are more likely to feel comfortable to ask for help and get the right kind of health,” said Haviland. “We created an organized approach to both of those objectives is the creation of our school as an active minds chapter and the creation of the Green Bandana Project. We want to build a culture in our school that destigmatizes mental health and offers support which will make our school better.
This shift follows the increased awareness of mental illnesses and disorders in recent years, especially in youth. The high school’s efforts seem to be promising as the Green Bandana Project was a schoolwide initiative that saw hundreds of students express their support to those struggling with mental health.
Students seemed to struggle with depression during the total lockdown last spring, but as things began to reopen and school was back in session things returned to normal. But for remote students like Kohli, there was still some struggle.
“Compared to other people, I’m not suffering from like depression or like extreme anxiety or anything, but it’s definitely not amazing, but it was pretty good in comparison to everyone else I think, but it wasn’t perfect, obviously,” said Kohli.
It seems like a return to school for students like Rohan are helping to improve mental health as the change in environment and opportunity to talk to new people help to create a healthier mind.
This has been a challenging year for parents, students, and teachers who had to make major adjustments in order to learn and teach during a pandemic. The struggles faced this year were tough, but circumstances are starting to turn the corner and the state’s reopening plan is now in its final phase. Had it not been for the hard work of all involved in the schools the week would not have been as successful as it was.
“I think like it’s great that we’re moving towards, you know, normal life again,” said Kohli. “But we have to make sure we’re moving cautiously and carefully. We’ll finish this year off strong and look forward to next year. “