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School year starts with remote plan despite mixed opinions

North’s classrooms will remain empty to start the new school year. (photo by Ian Dickerman)

With the 2020-2021 school year finally here, students have mixed reactions to Newton Public Schools’ (NPS) full distance learning plan, which was released to the public August 25 and will be in place for the “foreseeable future,” according to district officials.

“I feel like I barely know anything about what school is going to be like so I have no idea what to expect with the distance learning plan,” said Junior Mia Santangelo on the district and school’s communication.

Newton’s high schools will start the new school year Wednesday, Sept. 16 with a fully distanced learning program. Every class will meet three times a week and weeks will consist of one 90 minute block early in the week, a shorter block on Wednesday, and another 90 minute block later in the week. The current model also includes 55-minute flex blocks twice a week, which will function similarly to X-Block, as well as a 30-minute community block twice a week in place of the usual homeroom. Each day will go from 9:15 a.m. to 3:55 p.m.

Unlike the elementary and middle schools, the high school model will not include in-person learning options in the first semester. However, students will still have “opportunities for in-person community building, connection, and extracurriculars,” according to the presentation given to the School Committee.

Originally, the School Committee approved a hybrid plan for the high schools to use to start the school year. However, the district encountered many problems with the plan, and the School Committee instead approved a new, fully distance plan for the high schools, roughly three weeks before the first day of school.

“Although virtual learning has its negatives, I believe it’s necessary for us to continue it due to the pandemic,” said senior Andrew Chin. “The hybrid idea, although a great idea, would still have led to exposure between students.”

Many students cited the risks associated with rushing the hybrid model.

“It would endanger us and the teachers, and rushing a return would’ve complicated learning plans as well,” said senior Annika Morris-Kelly. “I think an obvious pro about the distance learning model is that it’s the much safer alternative and I think in some ways, obviously this depends on the student, it will be better for many people’s mental health.”

Online learning, although safer, still brings many problems, especially socially for students, Santangelo said.

“I think part of me does wish we were doing the hybrid model because the best part about going back to school was being able to see all your friends and the people you didn’t get to see over the summer. Now because it’s online that element of excitement is gone.”

According to one NPS survey from this summer, 85 percent of families selected the hybrid learning model. 

Sophomore Kate Larson said she said she had hoped for in-person learning. “I think that a hybrid model would be a lot better not only for the students but also for the relationships that teachers make with their students,” she said. “Although I think there are more cons than pros for the current distance learning model, it is obviously safer for all to stay at home,” even if virtual learning can put a lot of pressure on students, Larson added.

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