As the COVID-19 pandemic edges closer to the one-year mark, it’s only natural for students, teachers and parents to foresee — or at least hope for — a path back to normalcy. Whether paved by an effective vaccine, newly elected administrations or, for those in the Paly community, the district’s reopening plan, that path seems to be getting clearer.
However, no matter how promising these events may appear, it’s important to remember they are small steps toward returning to pre-pandemic life — not solutions.
At the Nov. 10 school board meeting, board members approved the district’s secondary reopening plan, which would have allowed middle school and high school families to choose either full distance learning or a transition to hybrid learning for second semester.
The proposal at the time was for students who choose hybrid learning over distance learning to meet with two classes for just one to two blocks per week and learn remotely with their remaining classes.
Clearly, despite hopes that returning to campus would usher in a return to pre-pandemic times, second semester in hybrid secondary learning is now off the table because of Santa Clara County’s return to the state’s most restrictive purple tier.
Despite the initial plan, hybrid learning may not be conducive to an improved learning environment anyway. Without the ability to move within six feet of peers and teachers, students wouldn’t have experienced the same interactive environment which they were accustomed to. Table groups, class games, one-on-one instruction and other benefits of traditional, in-person learning wouldn’t have been possible, even for those who opted for the hybrid plan.
It also appears hybrid students would have been split into smaller groups of 30-60, so dreams of reuniting with friends, or even teachers, were unrealistic.
Knowing this, why were some students envisioning a second semester filled with Spikeball, socialization and normal-sized classes?
In most cases, the answer is overoptimism — an overoptimism that has costs beyond an inevitably disappointing reconciliation with reality. These unrealistic expectations can lead to irresponsible student behavior that could jeopardize the viability and safety of any hybrid model.
If students had returned to school in January anticipating the normalcy and socialization they’ve long been deprived of, they would have only have been let down, but they would have been more likely to violate the district’s safety guidelines.
It’s important for some who hope to return to campus to readjust their perspectives. Hybrid learning should be viewed as nothing more than an alternative for those on whom distance learning takes a significant toll — not a chance to have fun.
If you’re itching to return to business as usual, it’s unwise to blindly expect a social paradise waiting for you if you return to campus under some kind of hybrid plan.
However, since distance learning — with its muted mics, turned-off videos and time spent staring at a screen — is not stimulating for the mind, it can disrupt students’ mental health.
This learning environment can also be tough on those who learn best through discussions, hands-on activities and visualization, all of which are limited in a distance learning environment.
For those who’ve had bad experiences with distance learning, the hybrid option may have been the best of two bad options. But for those who have adjusted successfully to distance learning, any hybrid option is unnecessary.
If you plan to choose hybrid learning, if it is ever offered, to see your friends and have a good time, you should reevaluate your expectations for what reopening could will look like.
Hybrid learning is not there to allow you to socialize, and it won’t mark a miraculous return to normalcy.
Thus, it’s crucial those who may have opted for hybrid education to accept this reality and to adopt a cautiously optimistic mindset — with an emphasis on the cautious.
In times like these, compromise is the name of the game.
If we expect any kind of hybrid learning to take us back to February, we’ll be met with great disappointment.