A look into students’ decision to stay home or return to school

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Paige Schnarr

Freshman Paige Schnarr, equipped with her Longhorns mask, documents her bus ride to school. Bus riders sat one person per row and alternated between the left and right seats to maintain distance. “I was doing well with online learning, but for me, if I’m not in the classroom, then I feel like I don’t get as much done,” Schnarr said.

The decision all students had to make: stay home or return to school. Whether behind a screen or behind a mask, for the first time in recent history, students have had a say in the environment from which they will learn from.

The Parkway Board of Education decided Oct. 7 to return to school for the second quarter. Each school implemented a blended learning schedule for the students who chose to begin in-person learning again. Split into two groups, each group would attend school on alternating days, with Mondays remaining from home for everyone. Senior Arreya Shaw made the decision to remain virtual, considering the health of her and her family.

“Ultimately, it was my decision. I talked about it with my mom and I talked about it with my grandpa, who both have underlying health conditions, but, ultimately, it was up to what I wanted to do,” Shaw said. 

With this being Shaw’s last year in high school, she found it to be a difficult decision.

“[I am] not going to have some of those senior moments like a homecoming week or being able to take classes in-person for safety,” Shaw said. “Most of the effect on me has just been missed opportunities, like trips that were canceled. I’ve seen my friends while attending little social distanced get-togethers in people’s backyards, six feet apart and wearing masks, but I’m pretty much inside most of the time.”

Freshman Paige Schnarr chose to venture back into school. She had never experienced the aspect of learning from high school, only from home, since this was her first year of high school.

“At first, I was like, ‘yes, I want to go back.’ Then I kept going back and forth because I liked virtual most times, but it was also a family discussion. We just went through what we thought was best for me as a person,” Schnarr said. “I feel like the differences [between virtual and in-person learning] are too vast to compare them.”

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalization peaking, the Board of Education decided to delay in-person learning until Jan. 15.

“Not having the added pressure of being in school was definitely helpful for me, but at the same time, for some classes, it definitely would have been more beneficial to be there in-person again, talking and working with the teachers,” Shaw said. “When you’re in-person, you have more collaboration with your classmates. With virtual, you don’t really have that connection.”

Health guidelines have limited social interaction in almost every aspect during this pandemic, impacting the decision to return to the building or not.

“Being in the classroom, you get to know people. You get to know the whole school that you’re spending four years at,” Schnarr said. “Now, it’s really rushed because no one wants you in the hallways because of COVID-19 and social distancing, but it’s completely different than what I was hoping my freshman experience would be.”

Even with social distancing guidelines of a required six feet between everyone in school, in-person learning provides an opportunity to discuss curriculum with teachers face-to-face.

“When you don’t get the feedback you’re wanting or the teacher can’t actually bend down and touch your paper and tell you, ‘okay, this needs to be changed,’ and show you, right in front of you, then it’s really hard [to learn],” Schnarr said.

Splitting the semester’s classes into two different quarters opened up time for a study hall in the schedule.

“Being virtual doesn’t help with my procrastination skills. You have all day until midnight to do an assignment, which is nice, but I wait until midnight to do it,” Schnarr said.

The school designated up and down staircases and implemented distanced seating and QR codes to scan before leaving the classroom.

“[The first day back] was really weird. I was kind of confused and overwhelmed and I don’t think I got the full experience since we had to go straight to our classes,” Schnarr said. “It’s hard to get over the fact that I met my teachers now. I actually got to meet them in-person. The other teachers I didn’t get to actually meet and get to know. It made it easier to ask questions.”

While it seems that going into school and attending Parkway Virtual Campus might be completely different, considering the options, it was clear many students’ emotions were similar. Starting Nov. 30, students are returning to virtual for the remainder of the quarter.

“I hope we’re able to learn from this, whenever something like this [pandemic] happens again,” Shaw said.