The NYC High School Blended Learning Experience

Tigerlily Theo Hopson

November 15th, 2020

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On the first day of school in early October, Jannette Estudillo was nervous as she traveled to her high school located in a majority-white area of Staten Island that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016. Would people wear masks? Would she feel safe? When she got to school, she showed the clearance page of her Department of Education Daily Health Check survey, her ID, and got her temperature taken before stepping through the doors.


When she entered her second period class she immediately noticed that her teacher’s bandana mask was covering his mouth but was under his nose. “Oh no,” she recalls thinking. “This is not going to end well.” Halfway during the period, the teacher took off his bandana completely. Jannette’s skin crawled with discomfort. Then, students started to yell.


“Covid isn’t real! It’s a conspiracy theory!” they chanted, Janette says. She did not know how to react; she tried to dissociate, and frantically messaged her friends and family, telling them how uncomfortable she felt. Her worst fears of coming to school had come into fruition.


On Friday, Nov. 13, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that public schools could close the following Monday if the seven-day average rate of positive Covid-19 test results reached 3 percent, it was then 2.83 percent. Two days later the Covid-19 rate lowered to 2.6 percent, allowing schools to stay open. The rate since then has increased and decreased, and the threat of a city wide school closure still lingers in the air.


Schools have been open now for two months, and the question remains if the opening of schools is contributing to rising infection rates. A major concern though is if students attending school feel safe. Are schools, students, and teachers taking Covid-19 precautions seriously?


For some students, like Jannette, this does not seem to be the case, but for others it is a different story. “It felt safe,” Anna Kabwa who is an eleventh grader at Brooklyn Technical High School said of going into school. “It was really clean, everyone kept their masks on, all the windows were open and everything, so I felt completely fine.”


Far Pritte, an eleventh grader at the Boerum Hill School for International Studies, agrees that going into school felt safe, “The school was so clean. I had never seen this school this clean. I had never seen the bathroom filled with tissues, soap, the toilet seats on the toilets.” However, she says that she will be switching to remote because of the hotspots and cases going up. “To decrease the capacity in the building, that is something I should do as my part,” she said.


Thelonius Hopson, a freshman at Art and Design High School, says that his experience in school  was better than he expected, but hardly any students actually were there. The halls were practically desolate and there were only two or three students in each class. He has now switched to remote learning, not because he felt unsafe but because, like Far, he wants to discourage students from coming in when they do not have to. “It makes more sense to stay remote until everything gets all better and then we can fully go to school,” he expressed.


A main issue that many students brought up was lunch. As of now, students in most schools are not allowed to go out to lunch, and many schools either do not have a lunch period (leaving students hungry) or have a block where students can eat during a class or academic support period.


Jyoti Laverack, twelfth grader at Millennium Brooklyn High School, does not feel safe during her school’s lunch period. “People were not six feet apart and everyone had their masks off,” she explained. Jyoti believes that “indoor dining is problematic” and that students should be able to go outside for lunch or have a shortened day so they can get lunch after school.


Matilda Molina, a twelfth grader at East Side Community High School, generally feels safe in the building because most people wear masks, stay socially distanced, and there is hand sanitizer everywhere. However, there are some students who “think it’s funny” to take their mask down often for no apparent reason. “It gets me frustrated because as a person that is a bit high risk for getting Covid it’s a bit scary when someone takes their mask down for nothing,” Matilda said.


Teenagers all over the city feel stuck between wanting to be safe, and wanting to go into school, for reasons including to get exercise, to see friends, to get extra support, and to be able to escape difficult family dynamics. Even Jannette, who after her second period class fervently wanted to switch to remote, decided to stay blended. The one day she goes into school “is the only day I can step outside of my room for more than a couple of hours.”


The New York City high school blended learning experience varies—some students feel safe, and others do not. But one central message shines through: this school year is like no other.


Cover image courtesy of facultyphoto.com