Hybrid Learning and an Historic WFS Opening

Henry Wieman, News Editor

On Tuesday, September 8th Upper School students at Wilmington Friends School experienced an opening day like none other in Friends’ 272 year history. No student rushed to stuff their backpacks that morning, or haphazardly pack a lunch before rushing off to school. At lunch, there was no line for the cafeteria, but nor was there any food. The halls stood silent, sounds of reunited friends and slamming lockers eerily absent. The first day of classes in the 2020-2021 school year for Wilmington Friends didn’t even take place on campus. Due to concerns on the spread of Coronavirus, for the first time ever, Wilmington Friends School had its opening day online.

The threat caused by the global outbreak of SARS-COV-19 has forced institutions across the country to adapt. Last spring, Wilmington Friends School was one of many schools who, following Spring Break, moved its students and classes out of the classroom and onto the computer. State and Federal governments began to place further restrictions and guidelines to prevent the disease from spreading. However, as March became April, and then as Spring became Summer, In the United States COVID-19 cases only seemed to rise. As Autumn loomed ever closer and COVID-19 refused to go away, schools had to make the decision on when and how to reopen to their students.

In August, Wilmington Friends School made the decision to start school with a hybrid of online and in-person learning. On Mondays and Tuesdays, middle school students learn in person as upper school students have classes through Zoom. Everyone has classes online on Wednesdays, as the school building undergoes rigorous cleaning. Upper school students then meet in person on Thursdays and Fridays, while middle schoolers learn from home. Wilmington Friends is observing many other safety precautions as well when students are on campus. Students are required to wear a mask at all times within the school building, and must remain 3 feet apart from others at all times. Desks and chairs have to be wiped down between each class. Students can’t use lockers, instead carrying their books in backpacks from class to class. All hallways are now one-way routes to ensure safe social distancing measures are observed. Hand soap dispensaries are set up in every classroom and in other convenient spots around the campus. Wilmington Friends School has dones a lot to ensure cleanliness and safety for its students by minimizing in-person learning and setting up safety procedures.

With the new procedures and restrictions inevitably comes change and disruption. Some students and teachers have opted to teach or learn entirely remotely, which presents its own challenges. Community spaces like the Java Nook, Junior Lounge, and Ice Cubes have been rearranged to the point of being unrecognizable, or have been flat out closed off. The need for masks hinders music classes, and the need for social distancing makes group projects and even simple conversation a challenge. Class times have been rearranged to give students more time between classes; double periods have been removed altogether. The need for masks inside has led to an increase of students eating outdoors. However, once temperatures drop, this may quickly become a problem. Even classes on campus face many new problems because of new restrictions, and the problems and issues students faced in the spring continue in online learning today. Learning in the time of the Coronavirus is not easy, even while the education isn’t through the laptop.

As students and faculty have begun to adjust to the new restrictions, they have formed their own opinions on the viability and use of the Hybrid Learning system that Friends is deploying. Some rules have already been ignored by a significant amount of the student body. Several students are critical of the hybrid system, but don’t really see any better options. Sarah Stovicek ’21, shared these sentiments. “Keeping school partially open will just lead to kids getting coronavirus, and school won’t go back to normal for even longer,” she laments. Still, some students, like Estelle Hegenbarth ’21, remain optimistic, and look at the learning system as a blessing. “It’s nice seeing friends and having at least some sense of normalcy,” she says. “And there are some parts of learning that don’t transfer well to Zoom, like asking for extra help”. Micheline McManus, the 12th grade English teacher, also has a positive outlook on the new system. “I’m excited to build on new routines and norms so that hybrid learning feels more familiar and comfortable for everyone,” she says. While Hybrid learning is far more restrictive than many students would like, it is still far more normal, and for many cathartic or satisfying, than a fully online school year. While it is far from perfect, many would defend the achievements of Friends’ hybrid learning system.