AISB students returned to campus on September 14th, nearly six months after the school first shut its doors due to COVID-19. Younger students are attending in-person classes in the morning, while older students arrive in the afternoon, as part of the new “adapted model.”
Strict new measures have been integrated into daily routines and expectations, like thermal body scans, keeping a 2-meter distance from others, and wearing masks at all times. And while the administration has undoubtedly done their best in this situation, it’s going to take awhile for the community to get used to this new normal.
Understanding the Adapted Model Decision
As Romania is experiencing its biggest spike in COVID-19 infections yet, at 3,000 reported cases per day, many are questioning what the right decision is regarding online vs in-person learning.
“Teaching and learning are highly social interactions which thrive in a face-to-face-model,” says AISB Secondary Vice Principal Fiona Moss. “School communities are based on these social interactions and these are often as valuable as the learning that happens through subject content.” Moss adds that, when creating the new adapted model schedule, the leadership team’s main goal was to create opportunities for students to feel less isolated and disconnected, which was a common complaint during distance learning.
While two to three hours a day on campus is not ideal, that’s the only way the school could provide adequate sanitation measures and ensure proper social distancing.
The New Protocols
The adapted model for most secondary students looks like this: their advisories have been split into two separate “pods,” and they are not to be in contact with anyone outside their pods. This is not only to prevent potential spread, but also to help with contact tracing if a student or a student’s family member is infected. Classes that require mixed pods like arts, maths, design, and languages continue to be online-only, while classes with the same pods are now taking place on campus (humanities, English, science, PE). To limit the flow of students on campus during a certain period, 3-hour blocks were given to elementary kids in the morning, and higher learning students in the afternoon.
Students enter the campus by passing though a medical tent, with temperature measurements and hand disinfectant. Once we arrive to our designated classrooms, we watch as our teachers switch between pods in order to meet guidelines—often watching on Zoom as they deliver content in the other room. There is also outdoor classroom options for classes where everyone can be together.
Teachers seem to prefer these outdoor classrooms, which are large tents where the whole class can be together while keeping the distance required. The only drawbacks are that it’s sometimes hard to hear, the WIFI signal isn’t as reliable as it is inside, and the sunlight can be too strong. Otherwise, the outdoor classrooms present a more efficient way to learn (and breathe, with masks on).
What the Community Thinks
The opinions are fairly mixed and differ regarding different aspects of the adapted model. Nathan Mees, a new teacher at our school (English and Film), teaches both online and on-campus classes. He says, “The positives of distance learning are, for me, that I get to see more of my family in the mornings. Outside of this, it’s a bit of a bummer. As for the on-campus model, the biggest positive is that school feels like school again.”
About the need to switch between rooms in classes, Mees says that “Teaching across two classrooms is less than ideal, but so was Liverpool not getting to celebrate winning the league with a parade. However, a win is still a win, and I will take teaching in person any day over teaching online.”
Several subjects remain online-only, including Jennifer Stevens’ Journalism classes. “At first I was happy to stay at home, teaching online, as I’ve adjusted to that type of learning,” she says. “However, because of the schedule, my 9th-grade classes have had to combine into a 30-person Zoom session and it feels very stressful.”
Stevens explains that it’s not just the larger class size that’s troublesome, but the fact that she only sees the students for two hours per week. “Trying to get anything done in two one-hour class periods is unrealistic. Half of my days are now spent following up with students and offering extra help, either by leaving excessive comments on their Google Docs or meeting with them on-on-one via Zoom, during planning periods or on Wednesdays. I’m doing the best I can, but it’s not fun.”
Dorian M, a 10th-grade student, appreciates the opportunity to go back to school but isn’t very fond of the scheduling. “The way that teachers have to run between one class to another is not convenient for learning at all. Even with a Zoom call, it does not work well. It is even more worrying that winter will come soon so we will not necessarily be able to go outside every day.”
The 10th grader also believes that the two hours of on-campus time isn’t enough, stating, “Due to lessons being only an hour long, the teachers give us more work at home; but there is very little time to work after school as the evening comes very quickly.”
Many of us can’t help but wonder how much longer this adapted model can be sustained—especially with winter coming and the predicted tightening of restrictions.
In an email to the community, AISB Director Peter Welch writes, “With the rise in cases that we are seeing in Romania more generally at the moment, unfortunately, closing pods or even sections of the school may be the norm in the weeks and months ahead.” He continues to say that the school is doing everything they can to run a safe program and to minimize the risk of infection on campus.
While no one really knows when things will return to “normal,” we have to try getting used to this new normal; and hopefully, we’ll all be able to return to campus, and officially say goodbye to Zoom.
*All images taken from AISB’s Facebook page.