Teachers back in schools, students happy to talk through computers in District 211
Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 may have begun the new school year in a most unusual way Thursday, but staff members say it was one for which they were well-prepared.
With the decision to have all students start the year learning remotely, Conant High School English teacher Zia Nathan focused Thursday on building a bond virtually with his new classes as quickly as possible.
He asked each student a series of questions that included what they're looking forward to this school year and the best part of attending Conant. Nathan also asked each to ask him a question.
Many of the students in his accelerated sophomore class were happy simply to interact with their peers again and to reacquire a sense of purpose and productivity after an unusual summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of those students in turn asked Nathan -- a teacher at Conant for the past five years -- what he thought about teaching remotely.
"I definitely miss seeing the students, that's for sure, but I'm glad that we have this opportunity," he replied.
After class, Nathan explained that he and his colleagues had collaborated over the summer to find approaches that would make the most of whatever scenario they found themselves in at any given time.
While each teacher has to call upon personal innovation under the circumstances, Nathan said he's been particularly interested in what Conant's newest teachers are coming up with.
"We've been really pushing ourselves to be creative to connect with our students," Nathan said. "It's obviously easier in person, but it doesn't mean it's impossible remotely."
He pointed out how many of his students identified Conant as a supportive environment and said that's an important starting point for the challenges that lie ahead.
"This is our school and we'll figure this out together," Nathan said. "I've seen a lot of resilience in our students and a lot of positivity."
The different schedule this year, with each class meeting for an hour every other day instead of 50 minutes daily, has had further influence on Nathan's approach. His interaction with his classes is expected to include less lecturing than before, for instance.
But being back in the school building with his colleagues is better than being at home as he was in the spring, he said. When interacting outside their individual classrooms, staff members are wearing masks and practicing other social distancing and hygiene protocols.
"Similar to students, it's nice to be back in the routine," Nathan said. "I'm ecstatic to be back and excited to see my students. I became a teacher because I'm a people person."
Conant Assistant Principal Mark Langer said the district decided it was beneficial for the staff to be together and have access to the resources of the buildings. For instance, chemistry and culinary teachers can do demonstrations more effectively at school than from home.
While District 211 is prepared to conduct the entire school year remotely if necessary, it's just as ready to change to a hybrid scenario in which half of the students would be able to come to school on any given day, Langer said.
The summer provided a smaller-scale testing ground of the entrance process in which students' temperatures would be taken and they would answer questions about their recent health and travel history, he said. Supervisors would be in place to ensure that students are practicing social distancing in the cafeteria -- the one indoor location where face coverings can be removed.