How West Chicago High School is preparing for the new year
Students at West Chicago High School will begin the academic year with mostly online learning, but they plan to return to classrooms once a week in smaller groups.
While many area districts are trending toward full-time remote instruction this fall, the high school's plan will offer students some face-to-face time with teachers in a far more controlled setting during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Our model of reopening schools, it really is an e-learning model with enriched in-person experiences," Principal Will Dwyer said. "So the kids are still learning through an e-learning platform, an e-learning approach, but with this occasional once-a-week check-in as well as some other virtual check-ins with our teachers."
Cumulatively, West Chicago has recorded the second-highest tally of COVID-19 cases -- 867 -- in DuPage County as Latino residents, who comprise more than half the population, disproportionately suffer from the virus. County health officials have told District 94 the city was hardest-hit early on in the pandemic during March and April and that infection rates have improved.
Still, the district's model gives administrators the flexibility to transition to all-virtual learning if made necessary by a spike in virus cases, educators say.
"Before we can get back to the model that I think we all grew up on and we've all come to really expect and appreciate, we have got to go small," Dwyer told the Daily Herald. "We've got to work everything out and make sure that we feel really good about our processes before we can get any bigger or do more."
West Chicago is set to start the fall semester on Sept. 10, later than most districts as a result of an ongoing construction project approved through a referendum campaign.
The district will divide the 2,000-student population alphabetically into quarters, so roughly 500 students will be coming to school each day four days a week. All students will learn remotely on Mondays.
"All the curriculum and instruction is designed for remote delivery with the students coming to school in-person for support, check-in, guidance," Dwyer said at a recent school board meeting.
The student group attending school will have to wear masks and will follow a half-day schedule from 7:55 a.m. to noon, with 30-minute class periods. Academic courses also will be taught in two-week modules.
"We've tried to work together with the administration to come up with a plan that gets students back in the building in a safe manner as well as protecting the staff that are there to deliver instruction," said Christopher Lukas, the president of the West Chicago High School Teachers' Association, the faculty union.
At noon, students will receive grab-and-go lunches and can access teachers on-campus for additional support, Dwyer said. No outside food will be allowed.
The district will dedicate afternoons on Tuesdays through Thursdays for teacher planning time and virtual office hours so educators can check in with students who are not physically on campus or for other learning activities.
The district has long provided Chromebooks for each student and Wi-Fi hot spots for those who need internet connectivity.
"We do a really good job of putting devices in every kid's hand and making sure that they have the connection they need to make that device work for them as much as possible," Dwyer said.
A survey of 193 parents showed 54% felt comfortable with the hybrid model and plan to send their children to school; 15% said they would not send their children to the in-person component of the plan; and 30% said they were unsure.
If families are reluctant to send their children back to the school building, those students would stay remote on what would have been their in-person attendance day.
Later in August, the district will ask families to declare if their teens will access the in-person portion of the plan.