Opinion | Students needed support adjusting to in-person school

After nearly two years of virtual classes, modified curriculums and little-to-no homework, I fully expected to start this semester with a rigorous, more “normal” course load. I expected that this year would require extra effort to maintain my grades, and I was more than prepared to put time in to build myself back up to the student I once was. What I didn’t expect, however, was that a quarter of the kids in my Chemistry-Physics class would drop out before first quarter’s end, and, even worse, that my once straight-A friends would suddenly find themselves receiving failing grades. 

I wasn’t alone in my revelation. Students and teachers alike were unprepared for how sudden this switch to “normal” schooling would be. Despite the fact it had just been a school year unlike any other, students were required to instantly adjust and pretend as though there hadn’t just been a global pandemic impacting our education.

Sophomore Eleanor Witte-McCarville was one of those students. As a high-achieving, accelerated student, Witte-McCarville in any other circumstance would have been ready to excel in her combined Chem-Phys course. But, without having recalibrated to in-person learning, and without the necessary foundation built in Biology last year, this just wasn’t possible.  

“Last year, a lot of the work we did in Biology was supposed to help prepare us for Chemistry this year,” Witte-Mccarville notes. “But over Zoom, nobody paid much attention, so I didn’t really get what I needed out of that class. I do think I would have done better in [Chem-Phys] if it hadn’t been right after a pandemic, which absolutely sucks.”

Until this year, Witte-McCarville never got the chance to experience what a real high school STEM class would look like. She never participated in a lab or took a high-stakes test before enrolling in one of the most rigorous courses at ETHS. Thus, appropriate measures were not taken to ease students into these classes— a shortcoming of teachers as well as policies that shaped student transitions back to school. 

Junior Ashley Cochrane recounts her experience of returning to school after such an unusual year.

“Teachers expect you to be in the same mindset you were in before the pandemic and to have the same work ethic, which just isn’t reasonable,” Cochrane says. “We get way more homework than we did—which is really too much homework—and not enough help in class.”

However, several teachers did make changes so their students would have an opportunity to adjust.

“We started this year talking about how formative assessments would be worth 50 percent of your grade, homework would start as 40 percent, and summative assessments are going to be 10 percent,” math teacher Sarah Gersowsky says. “Traditionally, tests are worth a lot more of the grade than 10 percent, but we’re just getting back in shape [for] taking tests again.”

Besides changes made to the actual weight of tests, accommodations were also offered to students during these assessments. The first test of Gerswosky’s Pre-Calculus honor’s class was entirely open note; the next four allowed for an index card of notes, while second semester’s will likely be closed note—the expectation for all assessments pre-pandemic. In doing so, students were able to ease into this once foreign idea of taking a real, in-person test.

“Coming off of [last] year, there are some gaps that were created,” Gersowsky elaborates. “Math is a tough discipline, because every class prerequisites the next, and [it’s like] missing an entire course. In some cases, [this] has been detrimental for some students to just kind of jump in.”

Gersowsky was the exception to this problem and not the rule. As a school that prides itself on its dedication to equity, ETHS may have neglected to recognize how the shortcomings of last year could continue to impact this semester. There was no equity when students were forced to drop classes, unable to keep up with such demanding curriculums. There was no equity when students were asked to “build upon” what they learned last year, without having a functional academic foundation to begin with. Despite having the motivation and skills to succeed in school, students were fundamentally set up for failure this semester in far too many ways.