For members of the ETHS community, the upcoming school year will feel like a breath of fresh air. While it is likely that no one is eager for summer to come to an end, today probably feels like a reasonable place to begin, in hopes of replicating a pre-pandemic school environment as much as possible while still keeping the health of both staff and students in serious consideration.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted how society is accustomed to live and learn. ETHS’ decision to remain fully virtual beginning last fall was announced over the summer, and that same plan was implemented until March of 2021.
ETHS was the last high school in the surrounding community to provide an in-person learning experience. For the fourth and final quarter of the 2020-21 school year, ETHS students were given the opportunity to attend in-person classes following a hybrid method of learning. New Trier, Loyola, Niles West, Glenbrook North and several other schools acted prior to ETHS, allowing students to opt into in-person learning as early as the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
ETHS’ choice to take the conservative, risk free route allowed plenty of time to create a structured and safe model for hybrid.
Those that chose to attend in-person classes at ETHS were assigned one of four cohorts based on their last name and were able to enter the building every other week. Hybrid entailed a variety of safety measures, including a mask mandate, six foot social distancing and a reduced number of students present each day. This method, while not anywhere close to typical circumstances, was an attempt at bringing ETHS students in the building.
“Overall, I’m glad that I was given the opportunity to be in the school for a small portion of the year. In the building, I was able to interact with some teachers and students, but most of the time I was in a classroom with only one or two of my classmates,” sophomore Emme Mann shares.
Just a week following the last day of the 2020-21 school year, summer school began, featuring a slightly different structure than the in-person hybrid model. Summer school allowed students to attend fully in-person rather than partially, with a much larger percentage of students in the classroom.
Several students shared that they missed the normality of going in the building consistently each day. That said, adjusting to the earlier wake up time was strugglesome to many.
“At first, waking up and going to in person school every morning seemed hard, since I had been used to waking up and joining a Zoom meeting from my bed,” sophomore Sydney Johnson says. “By the end of the first week, it felt like too much effort to go to school in-person every morning Monday through Thursday, but by the end of the third week, I had gotten into a routine of going every morning.”
In terms of safety protocol, staff and students had to self-certify before entering the building and masks were still to be worn; however the social distancing regulations were lowered from six to three feet and were enforced much less strictly as the summer progressed, according to students.
Over the summer, students were able to do a lot of group work, compared to the heavy load of individual assignments last school year. Increased contribution and collaboration of students led to a pleasurable summer school experience. However, some students hope to see even more unity and collaboration throughout this school year.
“For this upcoming school year, I hope we can do a lot of group work since we basically missed a year of socializing during the 2020-2021 school year,” sophomore Monroe Stroth shares.
The chances are likely that those things will be achieved, as ETHS announced back in May that every student will return entirely in-person this fall.
On July 15, ETHS adopted the Illinois Department of Public Health’s statement, saying fully vaccinated students and staff are not required to wear masks within the building. However, more recently, on July 28, the school revised that statement, requiring everyone, vaccinated or not, to wear masks until further changes are implemented, based on the CDC’s latest guidance for schools.
“I wear my mask to protect you,” Superintendent Eric Witherspoon says. “I hope that everyone understands that it’s part of taking care of our family.”
While times like these are constantly fluid and it is impossible to know what the later months will bring, ETHS reopening its doors to all students is a move towards normalcy.