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Hybrid Learning Was Supposed To Help High Schoolers Feel Connected, But It's More Stressful For Some

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Students on hybrid schedules say it's tough to stay organized when they're switching between in-person and virtual learning.

Shawnee Mission is the latest district to bring high school students back for in-person learning two days a week. Students have mixed feelings about being back in classrooms.

Most Kansas City area high school students are back in school at least a couple of days a week.

For some students, these hybrid schedules have been a welcome change of pace after months of virtual learning. But others are struggling with the back-and-forth of being in-person and remote.

“It's like meeting an old friend, and everything’s changed ever so slightly,” Shawnee Mission East junior Noah Gould told KCUR in November, when the district first brought back older students for in-person learning. “It's also very strange, like talking to people, not having to mute and unmute my microphone.”

Courtesy of Noah Gould
Noah Gould, a junior at Shawnee Mission East, is an International Baccalaureate Diploma candidate. But staying organized during pandemic school hasn't been easy, even though he's a good student.

For about a month in October and November, Gould and his classmates whose families picked in-person learning were in school two days a week and at home the other three. Gould said his teachers all had different expectations for days their students were learning online.

“For example, my Wednesday schedule, my first three hours all assign out-of-class work. It’s band, French, then psych,” Gould said. “However, after lunch, for honors pre-calculus, I have to Zoom into that class because for the love of God, I can’t figure out what I’m doing without being there.”

Gould’s a good student. He’s taking all honors classes, participates in speech and debate, is the tenor section leader on the drumline and has a part-time job. But staying organized during virtual learning has still been a challenge. He’s settled on keeping two virtual sticky notes on his school-issued MacBook: one for long-term work and one for “panic time” work that he needs to do right away.

“I actually spent all of Wednesday getting my panic time stuff done. On Thursday, I was going to do some of the long-term stuff, but then my National Honor Society essay took up the entire day,” he said, shaking his head.

Lots of alarms

Madeleine Morris, a senior at Shawnee Mission South, also had a system that was working for her before in-person learning started in October.

Alarms. Lots and lots of alarms.

“I have like 14 different alarms on my phone to keep me organized, to make sure I go to Zooms on time,” Morris said. “Otherwise, I would get distracted and not show up on time.”

Morris kept a copy of her schedule by her computer, and others posted around her house. She used a notepad to keep track of her homework.

Then she had to go back to school, but only two days a week. Morris struggled to get motivated on Mondays when she didn’t have school in-person until Wednesday.

012621_EM_Madeleine Morris.jpg
Rebecca Allen Photography
Madeleine Morris poses for a senior portrait. She was on a college visit back in March when the pandemic struck, and all her tours that day were canceled.

“I had a system figured out, and it was ready to go, and I was doing great,” Morris said. “Then the shift to hybrid messed it all up because in some classes they’re teaching twice as slow, or they’re only teaching you on days you’re in person.”

When Morris spoke to KCUR in November, she wanted to go back to virtual. And a few weeks later, she got her wish. Shawnee Mission and many other districts decided to send middle and high school students home between Thanksgiving and winter break. There weren’t enough substitute teachers, and everyone was worried about the coronavirus spreading as families gathered for the holidays.

But most of those students are back in class now, once again trying to figure out how to balance in-person school with virtual learning.

Making it through

Johnny Winston, a chemistry teacher at Shawnee Mission Northwest, said that even before the pandemic, he would tell students they were taking on too much.

“There is no other time in your life when someone asks you to try to sort out seven different new things and get an A in all of them,” Winston said. “Seven classes on a college schedule is 24 or 25 credit hours. That would destroy most human beings.”

Winston likes to ask his students where their white space is. Time outside of the classroom to think and feel and learn and rest. Take ceramics, he tells them. Take team sports. Run cross country, but he would say that. He’s the coach.

Kathy Estes is a coach for Truman Medical Centers Behavioral Health. She works with teens with depression, anxiety and ADHD, as well as their families.

“I don't think a lot of times parents understand the stressfulness of just being a kid and trying to do online learning. Not seeing your friends. Can you imagine being a teenager during this time period?” Estes said.

The good news is some teens are doing really well right now, away from school and some of the problems they normally have with peers.

Others are tired of being trapped at home with nagging parents. Estes said she sometimes has to remind parents that any gaps in their children’s education are likely to be shared with classmates.

“Nobody’s going to look back in 10 years and ask you what grade you made in geography. They’re just not,” Estes said. “They’re going to ask you, ‘How did you make it through? What skills did you develop?’”

Last week, as Shawnee Mission students prepared to head back to class two days a week, KCUR got back in touch with Noah to see how he was doing. “Nothing has changed,” he said in a text punctuated with a smiley face.

Because Noah, a junior, is pretty resigned to pandemic school at this point.

“I'm fully prepared that this could take over my senior year. I’m going to attempt and do the best that I can to prepare for college — and cross my fingers that college is more normal.”

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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