🏠😷🦠 Life As A QuaranTEEN 🦠😷🏠 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team Blog Surrounding COVID-19
Schools in Hamilton County have been closed since March 13th as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. That is at least until schools reopened on August 12th. After much consideration over the summer, the...
School Board and the School System decided upon a four-step phased reopening plan. Schools reopened starting in Phase 2 (hybrid learning where students are in school in two different groups on Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday and are home for the other three days of the week). It was just announced that schools will be changing to Phase 3 starting Monday, August 31st. Despite the schools’ phase, the HCS-at-home option will still be offered to students who choose to go entirely virtual. The blog that follows is an insight into our personal experiences with the school reopening, the stories and feedback we have heard from our peers, and some reflection on what has been working and what hasn’t been working thus far in the school reopening.
Carson: Before the start of school, I was planning to go to school in person. I had many fears about the transmission of COVID-19, but I had some hopes for the school reopening too. The weekend before school opened, I decided to switch to virtual schooling. I called our guidance counselors office on Monday, my mom emailed on Tuesday, and we still got a call on Wednesday claiming that I was skipping school. Of course, my school had records that I was virtual, but they didn’t “complete the switch” or something to that effect. The difficulties I faced in trying to switch to virtual after the original window and the challenges my friends have faced in trying to deal with scheduling changes this year have made me grateful I decided to switch early rather than be a part of the pending tidal wave of students planning to switch to virtual following the announcement of a switch to Phase 3.
So far, online school has been a touch chaotic, but it has also had its perks. I’ve loved being able to do work from home, spend time with my dogs, and set my own pace for assignments. It’s also been nice that while I watch zoom calls for classes where I don’t need to take notes, I can do something idle that is also productive like dusting my room instead of just taking pointless notes like I usually do in class to pay attention. My teachers have been struggling to find their stride in communicating with several groups of students at once and how to give us assignments in a way that isn’t overwhelming. Our teachers have been very understanding of our challenges and seem to be giving us excellent opportunities to provide feedback on what isn’t working. However, just as our teachers have hit their stride in Phase 2, we are switching to Phase 3. I’m terrified that school will backtrack and be just as confusing as it was during the first few weeks as my school will have to completely change our class zoom schedule to account for the new school schedule. One of the biggest challenges that I have faced with online schooling is myself. Between trying to balance taking breaks with feeling unproductive and lazy days with days where I do nothing but work, my sleep schedule is a mess, and I am closer to nocturnal than on a typical school schedule. Some days I have no motivation to work on things until late in the evening, then I must stay up late into the night so that I can do the same thing the next day. I’m working to give myself a sense of structure and routine, but the free choice is a challenge that I must continue to work on throughout online school.
Overall, my experience with online school has been frustrating at times but generally better than the constant fear I would face if I were in person. My concern is tied to the health of my friends, teachers, and peers from across the county as schools reopen to Phase 3. I have had doubts about the effectiveness of Phase 3 in social distancing since the phases were announced. I guess we are about to test the ability to social distance with real human lives at stake and no safety net. I was able to switch to virtual schooling to protect myself and my family, but many other students won’t be able to. Many people in the community will be affected that weren’t able to choose if they wanted to go to school in person or not. Regardless of your circumstance or the school option you choose, please wear your mask at all times and social distance as much as you are physically able to, lives could depend on it.
Saheli: Junior year is usually defined as the hardest year in high school, and now that most of the school will be done online, it makes the year a little more complicated. I chose option one, which was following the phase schedule. During the start of school, the county was in phase 2. My last name falls under the cohort B schedule, so my first day was online.
The A/B schedule was confusing at first because I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to do attendance, but it got easier as it went on. The teachers were really helpful, and they all responded to their emails quickly, so anything I or anyone else was confused about was answered. I think the start of school happened as smoothly as possible, even though everyone had their concerns. Anyhow, the beginning of the year was still pretty stressful. I enjoyed going only two days a week and the rest online. I think only going in person twice a week evens it out. I don’t, personally, want to wear a mask for eight hours a day for five days a week. The smaller class sizes give a chance to really create a relationship with your teacher and ask questions without peer pressure.
I think closing off the school year for at least the rest of the semester would be the safest route, but that isn’t up to me to decide. Starting August 31, Hamilton County moves to phase three, which means that students who choose option 1 go to school five days a week. With this current plan in place, I’m going to switch to option two, which makes me all online for the rest of the school year. I think this option is the best for me as safety is my priority.
Samuel: When quarantine began in March, I knew that it would affect my 2020- 2021 school year (my junior year), and I knew that I would likely be in online school for the whole school year. I was not prepared for how stressful the wait for information would be—the wait for what Hamilton County would do and the wait for the planned re-opening. As I saw the rise in cases throughout the summer, it became clear that my best and safest option for my family was to stay completely isolated...even if that meant not seeing my friends in person for another full school year. I had already done five months, so how bad could another 12 months be?
The first week was, quite frankly, messy. Many teachers weren’t prepared for doing both online classes and in-person teaching at the same time. Luckily many of my teachers knew how to operate screen sharing with online students so we could see the materials, but a few of my teachers did not know how to share anything online with us during the class period. It felt like a trust fall based on a teacher’s knowledge of technology. I did not have much work this week with the reopening, since I only had two days of actual classes. Most of the “assignments” were based on reading the syllabus for the class or gathering materials. With having both in-person students and online students, it felt like the teacher’s attention was split entirely down the middle with no clear way for them to give both groups of students the instruction time needed.
To conclude, I honestly hope that the school system sees that (at least in my opinion) closing physical school for the 2020-2021 school year is the safest method. Several schools inside of Hamilton County have already experienced COVID-19 related school closures in the three days they have been open again. The problem will only escalate from here, resulting in the sickness and possible deaths of many students, parents, and staff. I wish that all teachers would receive training in online schooling and how to do screen sharing best so that all students could get the same level of education. Just because someone chooses their own safety over being in the classroom does not mean they deserve a lower grade education.
Sophie: Going into a senior year is already a daunting task to face. The expectations of knowing what you want to do right after high school, college applications, and scholarship deadlines aren’t even the tip of this stress-filled iceberg. As we embark on our school year during a world pandemic, the same standards are still expected of us. We need to make good grades, balance our extracurriculars and social lives while somehow finding time to check in with ourselves, and maintain our mental health. With different schooling options, it seemed like no matter what I decided, whether all online or in person, I’d be putting myself at some disadvantage. I ended up choosing in-person classes, and needless to say, it’s been an interesting experience. Our regular school year filled with friends and peers packed wall to wall has been cut down by more than half. My first day of school looked like a ghost town with half-empty hallways and spaced out classrooms. However,throughout the day, I came to appreciate the odd set up at my school.
For starters, the mask mandate and six-foot rule were nice to have set in place because, until these unprecedented times, I can’t believe I just let people breathe on me and walk so close! Not to mention, my morning routine took half as long because I only had to worry about what my face looked like above my mask. Also, with smaller class sizes came more intimate relationships with students and teachers. I feel like I can understand what’s going on more, and my teachers have more opportunities to connect with us. Even spaced out lunch tables weren’t so bad. Instead of sitting at a crowded table full of people who probably weren’t paying attention to you, there was more of an opportunity to be in on the conversation.
Student Input: *These responses may have been altered for clarity or correctness.*
“Luckily, my school is reopening with serious precautions (larger rooms, longer passing times for cleaning, etc.), but I still anticipate at least one outbreak. I know that young people have better chances, but we could still die. I wish we either went online or delayed school by a year. It’s not worth what’s coming.” -Isis, GPS
“As someone who is currently taking school online, I still see going to school in person as a pretty bad idea, though, the measures my school is taking honestly surprised me at how much better they are handling this than I imagined. But, I still worry about the health of students, staff members, & families. I have heard some horror stories made in real life relating to a bunch of people getting the virus because of schools reopening.” -Leah, East Hamilton High School
“There was a lot of confusion this morning for our first zoom meetings. We didn’t receive emails about what we were supposed to do until 8:30 last night, and a lot of students (myself included) didn’t know what we were supposed to do. From what I can tell, the teachers are working as hard as they can to teach the HCS at Home students as well as in-person students, though.” -Rachel, Ooltewah High School
“School was chill, but getting on zoom was a struggle. I hope it gets better. I can't wait to just read and vibe throughout the rest of the school year though.” -Lynn, CCA
“For the first day, it wasn’t too bad. The teachers made sure the students understood how to work with Canvas and Zoom. They’re doing a good job with balancing work between the in-person students and online students. However, there were too many unanswered questions from the families to Hamilton County. A lack of communication and the wording is what confused me.” -Cai, Ooltewah High School
“My school has been really good about getting enough testing and making different options for students who don’t want to go in. However, I’m not down with virtual classes; I hate those. I can’t learn, and I get a screen headache, and I miss human interaction.” -Maggie, Northeastern University
Conclusion: It’s conclusive to say that the decision to attend school in person or online doesn’t change the ultimate outcome of how the students will feel. Feeling overwhelmed, under-informed, and highly stressed is the best way to describe how the roller coaster of emotions that students are experiencing during these unprecedented times. Whether you’re worried, you will pass the virus on to the people in your household, or you’ve procured anxiety by waiting for last-minute updates from the county, the mental health of students in Chattanooga has fluctuated throughout this pandemic journey and on into the school year. It’s easy to judge others about their choice of contact in school, but it’s clear that every student struggles in one way or another, so remaining supportive and educated on this pandemic is the best thing that can be done for now. Lastly, encouraging each other and uplifting student voices shouldn’t be something people only do during crises. We should continue this habit until these students make the changes they wish to see in the county and eventually in the world.