Cassidy Arrington, Contributing Photographer
After more than a year of remote learning for New Haven high schools, eager students and teachers were welcomed back to school for optional in-person learning on Monday.
The partial reopening of high schools marks the final step in the initial reintroduction of district students into classrooms. On Jan. 19, NHPS elementary school students, some special education students and immigrant English language learners in the New Arrivals program were allowed back to schools for hybrid learning. The same opportunity was afforded to middle school students on March 4.
At Cooperative Arts & Humanities Magnet School, a magnet school on College and Crown streets better known as Co-op, students and teachers alike reflected on the highly anticipated partial high school reopening.
“You can’t even remotely put a price on being in an actual learning space,” said Matt Chasen, a music teacher at Co-op. “For students in high school in New Haven to have been out of the classroom for a year, it definitely was time for them to be able to come back.”
Under the district’s reopening plan for high school students, parents have the option to opt their students in to or out of in-person hybrid learning. Students that opt in to in-person learning are placed into cohort A or B. Cohort A is allowed back to school for in-person learning on Mondays and Tuesdays, while students in cohort B have the same opportunity on Thursdays and Fridays. When it is not their day for in-person instruction, students remain at home and continue remote learning. At Co-op, cohort A includes students with last names beginning with the letters A-Lin and cohort B includes those with names from Lle-Z.
According to Michele Sherban, director of research, assessment and evaluation for NHPS, as of Friday, 3,411 high school students out of 5,681 total opted into the hybrid system. That figure amounts to more than 60 percent of all NHPS high school students. For middle and elementary school students, 8,790 out of 13,995 — or about 62.8 percent — have chosen hybrid learning.
Co-op U.S. history teacher Ryan Boroski added his voice in support of the return to in-person education. He told the News that students and teachers alike took human interaction for granted prior to the pandemic, adding that it felt nice to be around his students in person on Monday.
Boroski told the News that only five students showed up in person for one of his Monday classes, and just two students for another. He estimated that between 20 and 25 of his students remained at home but connected virtually, including remote-only students and hybrid students on a remote instruction day.
Chasen also taught in-person students and remote students simultaneously on Monday. He said that balancing the two pools of students will become easier over time but will always be different from traditional in-person instruction. He noted that he found himself thanking his students often for their patience as he adjusted to the hybrid learning model.
“You don’t have that ability to spell things out for [students] on the computer in the same way that you would if they were sitting in a chair in front of you,” Chasen said. “To have that ability with some of them, to look them in the eye and make those adjustments and make that more purposefully and meaning connection, that’s huge.”
For Lauriann Burt, a first-year student at Co-op, being in the classroom felt somewhat similar to being at home. She told the News that watching teachers instruct both the students in the classroom and online made learning complicated.
Today was Burt’s first opportunity to take a class in person at her school. She had visited the school before for a summer camp but had never sat in a classroom as an actual student.
According to Chasen, Burt’s experience is common among many of the first years at Co-op. He said many of his first-year students were apprehensive about coming back at first because they had never interacted with their new school in person. He praised both students and teachers for their resilience in coping with the virtual model for so long.
Aayu Adji, a senior, told the News that he came to classes in person on Monday because he missed being outside and interacting with his peers, an experience he could not get from virtual learning. He compared the return to in-person classes to “the first day of school” because he felt a similar level of confusion.
“We went back to school, but we didn’t really know what to do,” said Adji. “How do we make art or do work with [most people] still digital and only six people in the classroom?”
Phillip Honborg, a senior, said that only three students, including himself, were physically present in his jazz band class on Monday, while around 17 others logged in virtually. He compared his first day back to an episode of the 1950s science-fiction horror TV show “The Twilight Zone,” describing it as “weird.”
“It’s jarring but it feels nice being back finally,” said Honborg. “Honestly, I was expecting disappointment but the teachers — I’ve got to hand it to them — are working hard for us.”
Honborg said that in-person attendance was “worth it” and described in-person learning as much better than the alternative: making eggs at home and listening to class halfheartedly. He also urged his peers to continue to trust in their teachers and school administrators during the shift to hybrid learning.
According to the school’s website, about 65 percent of Co-op’s student body is from New Haven, with the other 35 percent coming from suburbs.
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Correction, Apr. 6: An earlier version of this story misspelled Burt’s name as Lauri Ann Bert. In fact, her name is Lauriann Burt. The story has been updated.