School allows more students in person

Four days of in-person learning available, faculty prepares for full in-person in fall 2021

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Students walking into NC show daily COVID-19 screener (Schultz/LION).

Claire Williams , Managing Editor

As COVID-19 numbers in Illinois have decreased and vaccinations have become increasingly available, LT has and continues to adjust its schedule in the hopes of giving students a more normal learning experience. 

This semester, these adjustments took the form of allowing students to attend in-person classes four days per week. In the 2021-22 school year, they [modifications to the schedule] will likely manifest in full in-person instruction and potential changes to the current school schedule, Principal Brian Waterman said.

“We are preparing for total in-person learning to be the expectation starting in August,” Waterman said. 

As of March 18, about 800 students were already getting a step closer to full in-person learning by attending in-person classes four days per week, Waterman said. This new option for students was the culmination of efforts to increase four-day, in-person learning that began in October.

With the introduction of the hybrid model on Oct. 19, transition students, students in special education classes, and English language learners could come four days per week, Waterman said.

Second semester began with allowing students who were failing three or more classes to attend four days per week. Each week, that threshold of failing classes decreased, and by late January, teachers could recommend non-failing students who they believed would benefit from four days of in-person instruction. All of this cumulated in opening up four days of in-person instruction to the general student population on Feb. 18, Waterman said. 

“Our three goals, throughout this whole time frame, has been to prioritize health and safety of staff, students and community, to support social-emotional learning and basic wellness needs of families through our lunch program, and then our third goal has been to maximize in-person learning when we can,” Waterman said. “And so I think right now we’re in a great spot where if you want to attend four days of learning, you can.”

Students had the option to request to attend in-person classes four days per week by contacting their assistant principal, who will then make sure there are no issues in terms of occupancy for any of their classes, Waterman said.

“We were starting to get a little concerned about some classrooms until [March 2] when the state changed the guidance from six feet to three feet,” Waterman said. “And that opened up more spots in classrooms.”

As more students continue to switch to four days of in-person learning, English teacher Virginia Condon expects the classroom experience to only get better, she said. 

“I love seeing students in class,” Condon said. “I feel like the engagement factor for students is much higher because they’re seeing people. I have such a dynamic group of kids, so there’s all kinds of tomfoolery and fun…or at least fun for me.”

Abby Deuter ‘22, who began attending four days per week shortly after the option became available, has similarly felt the positive impacts. 

“The biggest difference and the biggest change has happened because I’m able to see my teachers and see my classmates,” Deuter said. “I think, when I’m isolated in my room, it’s easy to feel alone, which in turn makes it easy to procrastinate and feel overwhelmed by all the things you have to do. But I think when you’re in person, just being able to have that social interaction, has really put me in a better mood and made me feel more motivated to do my schoolwork.”

Looking to next year

As the semester winds to a close, the administration is now focused on the 2021-22 school year and what that schedule may look like. As part of this effort, the administration released a survey during the week of March 29 for students, staff and parents to complete. The results of this survey will help guide plans for next school year, Waterman said.

“We anticipate returning to some semblance of our pre-pandemic instructional schedule,” Waterman said. “But we also want to get feedback from people, so that we can explore any improvements we want to make.”

While the administration plans to take students’ input into account, there are certain non-negotiables, Waterman said. These include a similar amount of instructional minutes as the old schedule, as well as a similar start and end time. 

“We have a transportation system set up on a footprint of around 7:45 to 3:05,” Waterman said. “We can make adjustments, but I wouldn’t expect drastic modifications.”

In addition to these changes, students will likely not have as much flexibility to choose between in-person and remote learning, Waterman said. Remote learning will likely instead be an accommodation for students with specific medical or family reasons, and they will likely need to show specific documentation to that effect. Those that choose remote learning will likely need to commit to it for the entire semester.

Ultimately, we feel it is important to evolve toward in-person learning being the expectation for students because we value and place a high emphasis on the importance of students having an in-person experience,” Waterman said.

The District Planning Committee hopes to have a preliminary model for the 2021-22 school year by June 1, Waterman said.