District 155 among six local school districts to switch to hybrid learning Tuesday
Students of Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 were glad to be reunited Tuesday, their first day back in school buildings for hybrid learning, and staff came back feeling more prepared after the district's two-week run with a hybrid model in the fall, Superintendent Steve Olson said.
Olson said he was reminded of just how impactful school closures have been for students when he was approached by a freshman at Crystal Lake Central High School on Tuesday who asked him where a classroom was located within the building.
"I'm thinking, 'Wow, I have a freshman student asking me in the month of January where the English classrooms are,'" Olson said. "That just doesn't happen and that really kind of gave me pause to think about, you know, what our students haven't had."
Cary-Grove High School senior Katelyn O'Laughlin said Tuesday she was nervous for her little brother who is a freshman and also still doesn't know where his classes are, but added she was excited to get back to see all of her friends again before they go off to college.
"It was kinda like a little reunion," O'Laughlin said. "I'm excited to get to play (flute) again, especially with everyone else, not just at home by myself."
O'Laughlin is first chair for the flute section of her wind symphony class -- one course that is especially tricky to navigate through a computer screen.
District 155 was one of six McHenry County school districts that welcomed students back for modified versions of in-person learning Tuesday morning.
The other districts that made the move after Martin Luther King Jr. Day included Fox River Grove Elementary School District 3, Prairie Grove School District 46, Alden Hebron School District 19, Richmond-Burton High School District 157 and Nippersink School District 2.
Across those districts, many students in transition grades had to again familiarize themselves with new school buildings after spending, at most, a few weeks in them back in the fall before most local districts returned to remote learning in response to guidance from the McHenry County Department of Health.
In District 46, most sixth graders haven't had the chance to spend any time in the Prairie Grove Junior High building after the yearly orientation planned for the end of fifth grade was canceled last spring and the district was unable to finish its gradual transition to hybrid learning before going remote again in the fall, Superintendent John Bute said Tuesday.
Within the district, 69% of both Prairie Grove Junior High and Prairie Grove Elementary students chose to go back for hybrid learning, Bute said. Tuesday was the first day back for fifth through eighth graders; kindergarten through fourth graders will return to school Wednesday on the district's rotating hybrid schedule.
"The excitement has been ramping and today it culminated with students in the building," Bute said.
About 76% of District 3 students elected to participate in their new hybrid learning model, in which students attend school for a morning or afternoon shift, Superintendent Tim Mahaffy said. The remaining 24% of the district's K-8 students opted to remain in remote learning.
District 3 students attend school for half days in the morning or the afternoon and learn remotely when they are not in school, Mahaffy said.
The hybrid-to-remote-learning ratio is nearly the same at District 155 with about 75% of the district's high schoolers opting to go back for hybrid learning and the other 25% staying remote, Olson said.
District 155 high schools are following a hybrid learning plan in which students go back to school for two full days each week in two rotating groups, Olson said. All students are remote on Wednesdays when they work on assignments asynchronously, meaning without live instruction, unless they request extra help from their teachers, he said.
Peter Wallis, a senior student at Cary-Grove High School, said he struggled a bit learning online and was glad to return for in-person learning Tuesday.
"I like interacting with the students and teachers I wasn't able to see since we've been online," Wallis said. "My favorite part was getting to see my friends who I haven't been able to see a lot because (we) wanted to stay safe."
In a Facebook post put up Tuesday morning, Richmond-Burton Community High School said they are "pumped to have students back in the building."
Photos of students in masks, some of them giving the thumbs-up, were posted Tuesday afternoon with the caption: "Smiles can be seen in the eyes."
This time around, Bute said District 46 is determined to avoid a return to remote learning through the end of the year and will take a more targeted approach of pausing in-person learning for specific grades or school buildings if an outbreak were to occur.
Olson and Mahaffy said they will do the same for their districts, remaining open unless they are specifically mandated by the county or state to do otherwise.
All three superintendents said this decision does not mean they are being any less safe, but rather reflects progress in understanding how to respond to positive cases and outbreaks in more targeted ways.
Olson said District 155 will look into some of the innovative learning models they have had to come up with over the past year in their upcoming strategic planning meeting. Some of the shifts they have made that work better for students and staff just might carry on into the future, he said.
"It's always been said that oftentimes opportunities are disguised as challenges," Olson said. "We're learning a lot from some of the challenges we face and seeing them as opportunities for us to get better at what we do."