Reopening Schools: How do Parents and Students Feel?

Middle and Elementary School Students’ Opinion

Katie Vastola and Moira Sirois

Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) reopened schools for hybrid learning to all students on March 16. The days students are attending in-person school depend on their last name. If their last name starts with A-M, they come in on Tuesday and Wednesday; those with last names starting with N-Z go in on Thursday and Friday.

Even though ACPS has reopened, learning will still look different compared to the traditional in-person learning experience. Students and teachers still have the option to stay home, meaning some teachers may be teaching virtually while their students are in the classroom with a classroom monitor. Additionally, regardless of whether or not the teacher is returning, they are teaching to students in the classroom and on Zoom at the same time.

Even if a teacher is staying virtual, some of their students are still hybrid. In these cases, students are kept in either common areas like the cafeteria or gym or in a classroom with a classroom monitor. Hybrid students with virtual teachers still join a Zoom call with their teacher.

The biggest change at the elementary level is not having recess. ACPS says that each elementary school principal can “evaluate the feasibility of having recess” based on measures like available staff, class scheduling, and health protocols. However, even if schools decide to have recess, playground equipment will be off-limits until further notice. 

Siblings Will (second grade) and Eme (kindergarten) Cantrell opted to stay virtual for the remainder of the year. They both like online school, but it has its drawbacks. Will said, “I like my teachers, they make it fun, but I don’t like being on the screen all day.” Eme said she loves gym and art, but she “loves school so much” and “wishes she could see her teachers.” Will also misses school but understands that it’s hard right now.

Their parents, Beth and Travis Cantrell, said, “we’ve been impressed with the teachers for each grade and couldn’t be happier with the level of energy and dedication they have.” Being on Zoom so much can be challenging, but their parents say they’re making the best of it.

Even though they chose to stay virtual, they say they “have concerns over whether we made the right choice, but we are grateful to be able to stay home with the kids.”

Siblings Nate (second grade) and Oscar (first grade) Horn also chose to stay virtual for the remainder of the year. Their mom, Rachel Horn, said, “Last March, when school buildings first closed, we set up a learning pod with a few other families.” They’re still a part of the learning pod, and Horn said the current set-up is working well because they participate in classes remotely, but also have the benefit of a small in-person group.

George Washington Middle School (GW) was among the schools that reopened on March 16. Families were able to choose whether their kid(s) went hybrid for two days or continued to do virtual learning.

For kids staying virtual, there is not too much that changes other than the schedule. Synchronous days are going back to the 8:30 to 3:10 schedule it originally was before the pandemic. Students go back to four-minute passing periods regardless of whether or not they chose online or hybrid.

After a little over a year, it is exciting that ACPS is slowly starting to reopen schools. Students are getting ready to meet their teachers in-person and for sixth graders, they can see the building.

Sixth-grader Remi Grimes opted to go hybrid and said, “I look forward to seeing my teachers in-person and some of my classmates.”

It will be nice for some teachers and students to make face-to-face connections. Although there are some concerns about being back, students seem to be eager to go in-person.

An anonymous eighth grader said, “I am going hybrid because online learning is challenging and being in person allows for more student-teacher opportunities.” 

Under the hybrid model, students can ask questions easier and teachers can see what students are learning. It will be beneficial for both students and teachers that are back in the classrooms to see if they understand the content.

Anonymous said, “My only concern is if younger kids will be responsible with their masks and wear them properly.”

Teachers and administrators will be working to make sure that concern will not be an issue. They will remind students to wear masks properly and maintain social distancing guidelines. This is to ensure everyone’s safety.

Grimes said, “I am nervous about finding my way around the school and that it will be very strict so I won’t be able to talk to anyone.”

It will be an adjustment for current sixth graders since they may have only seen the school a few times or not at all. There will be teachers and administrators helping students to their classes if needed. 

ACPS also allows for hybrid students to switch to virtual at any point. This is not the same for virtual students who want to switch to hybrid: currently, switching to hybrid from virtual is not an option. This is to make sure the number of students that are in the building is limited and controlled. By allowing families to choose between hybrid or virtual, they are allowing families to make the decision that works best for them.