Head to Head: Two students weigh in on return-to-learn decisions
February 25, 2021
On Feb. 16th, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) students in grades 6-12 were finally able to return to in-person learning after eleven months away from the school building. Students declared back in December their intent to either return to in-person school or stay virtual. Only 24 percent of Grady students declared intent to return to in-person.
Two Grady students were invited to weigh in on their return-to-learn decisions.
Returning to in-person learning was right decision
On Feb. 16, for the first time in nearly a year, I walked into the Grady cafeteria. As I entered the building, I couldn’t help but wonder: Had I made the right decision by choosing to go back to school?
When Atlanta Public Schools was planning to reopen schools back in November, I had initially decided to stay home. After all, going to school only to sit and get on Zoom seemed pointless, especially given the rising Covid-19 cases at the time. Why would I wake up early and put myself in danger when I could stay in the comfort of my own home? APS did not end up reopening in November, and my opinion on the matter has changed since then.
In December, I began to notice that my focus was slipping. After so many months of virtual learning, I was barely managing to pay attention and get work done on time. When the survey came out for returning to school in February, I was more open to the idea. Although I was unsure about it, I chose to come in-person. I knew I could opt out if I changed my mind, so I figured I could wait and see how I felt when the time came to return.
Feb. 16 drew near, and the reality of going back to school began to sink in. As I weighed the pros and cons, my biggest concern was the safety of the teachers. In times when Covid-19 cases are high and new strains are beginning to appear, putting anyone in danger is the last thing I would want to do.
Most teachers did not have a choice about returning to school and were worried about the circumstances of in-person learning. This fear hit very close to home: my mom is a preschool teacher that has been in-person since August. Like many teachers at Grady, my mom was extremely anxious in the weeks leading up to the reopening of her school. Although it has been nerve-wracking, she has taught a class of 13 non-distanced 2-year-olds for months without any major outbreaks.
Given the fact that Grady would be at less than 18 percent capacity and distanced, I concluded that going back to school would not put anyone at significant risk. This also came with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcement that in-person learning was recommended if done safely. Still, I understood the concerns of teachers and decided that I would only stick with in-person instruction if I felt the school had properly handled CDC protocol. As of now, I can say that I believe Grady took adequate measures in ensuring the safety of students and staff.
After finishing my first day back at school, I felt more genuinely happy and accomplished than I had in a long time. One of the key factors in my choice to return to school was the mental health benefits of learning in-person. I was more focused than I had been in months, and talking to teachers and classmates heightened my mood throughout the day. For those considering returning to school next quarter, I was personally content with my decision and would recommend it, especially for those struggling at home.
That being said, it should be noted that my largest class had only 4 students; I am sure that number will increase as students become more desperate to return in the final quarter. Although I currently feel safe at Grady, I am unsure if that will change if more students choose to come back in-person.
For now, I’m happy with my choice to attend school in-person. I had no clue I had missed seeing my classmates and teachers so much.
Staying virtual was right decision
When I received the intent to return survey on Dec. 3rd, my first thought was, “So soon?”
I had received a similar email in November, and it had been easy to make an immediate decision with my current situation: my siblings were doing online learning; my mom was doing online teaching, and my aunt was busy starting up her Covid-19 testing business. Chances were there would have been no one to take me to and from school, and it would inconvenience everyone.
Now, I couldn’t make such an effortless decision. Things had changed. For one, this semester I had new classes that are more hands-on and can’t be taught over a computer screen. I miss my routines, the constant change and the variety that I normally experience at school. With quarantine, I’ve been doing the same thing every day. After discussing the possibility of returning to in-person school with my mom and aunt, it was decided that it would be best for the family if I continued to stay home.
My situation hadn’t changed enough that my decision would change. My siblings are still staying home for school; my mom’s still teaching online, and my aunt now has a booming Covid-19 testing business. Going to school would still be an inconvenience.
Though I was originally uneasy with my family’s decision, I’ve come to appreciate it. After talking to my friends who did go back to school, it seems like they’re doing the same thing everyone at home is doing, but sitting at a desk at school. To me, it doesn’t seem worth it. Why sit in a classroom and watch Zoom, when you can do the same thing at home in a comfortable and safe environment?
Some people claim that they’re focusing better at the school building, which may be true, but I feel like you recieve more focused teaching if you’re online. Most kids opted to stay home, so the majority of the teachers’ classes are online. So far, it feels like they interact with and cater more towards the online kids.
At this point, I’m satisfied with my decision to stay home, and I recommend it to anyone who’s trying to decide whether they should stay virtual or not. You get the same type of teaching (maybe even better), you do the same classwork, you can keep yourself and your family safe, and you can do it all in your pajamas. What’s not to love?