Is hybrid school really worth it?

Senior staff writer Shannah Saul, who is back on campus, says it definitely is

Opinion columns reflect the view of the staff writer.

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind, to say the least.

On March 17, a year and a day after Cal High shut down because of COVID-19, I went back to school in a hybrid learning environment. Only 22 percent of students actually chose to return to school, and we were split into two cohorts that were each brought into school two days a week.

Just two weeks after this initial return, the CDC adjusted their guidelines and claimed that students can be within three feet of each other with minimal COVID transmission. This led to a complete shift to full time in-person learning for hybrid students. The cohorts were disbanded, and teachers were more or less ordered back to campus if they had three or more students return to a class in person.

Suddenly, the new routine was upended. I didn’t know which of my teachers were returning to school (only one more came back), what the new learning labs would look like, or how safety precautions would be managed with double the students on campus.

The sudden changes, the sub-par communication, and the shrinking precautions have a lot of people wondering if this whole hybrid situation is worth it. As someone who’s actually on campus, I say it is worth it, for a few reasons.

Before spring break, I had only one class that I actually attended in person. Joined by seven other students, I sat in the classroom and used my computer to complete the work, while my teacher was on Zoom lecturing to us and the rest of the class learning from home.

Coming back after the break, a few more of my teachers came to school in person. Other than those few periods, though, I spend my class time in a “learning lab”, a common space designated for students with remote teachers. Some periods I had about 20 students all in different classes learning beside me in either the gym or an abandoned classroom.

Lunches and breaks have remained essentially the same, other than some “distanced” activities such as foosball and corn hole being put in the quad for students to enjoy. Friend groups still congregate together without social distancing, but it’s easy to stay away from other people with a bit of awareness.

All of these new guidelines, when coupled with the question of hybrid school being “worth it”, have raised a few safety concerns. Honestly, I feel like remote learners are being awfully loud about how unsafe hybrid learning is without actually being on campus to see for themselves. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the fact that I’ve yet to see masks worn incorrectly by more than one or two people (just a reminder, it’s over the mouth and nose, people). Most classrooms have 10 or fewer students in them, and desks are spaced out pretty well.

With the new adjustments to hybrid classrooms before spring break, I did find myself a little too close for comfort in some of the learning labs. Coming back from break, though, many more students have returned to in-person classes as their teachers have come back, meaning the common learning areas have more space. Most periods, in fact, I’m completely alone in the learning labs save for one or two other students. With these adjustments, I consider school to be just as safe as the grocery store or a Starbucks.

To be fair, though, anyone who signed up to return to campus doesn’t see COVID as a big enough risk to justify them staying home. I by no means am saying safety protocols shouldn’t be a thing or that COVID-19 isn’t a serious pandemic. But it’s up to each individual household to assess the risk for themselves. If individuals decide it’s in their best interest to risk it, then it’s past time to let them come back to school.

Probably the most important reason I consider in-person school a triumph is because of the mental health benefits, as the new environment that actually gives isolated kids a sense of purpose. I wasn’t exactly a bad student before returning to school, but since being back in person I feel more focused, more energetic, and more inclined to actually try.

Who knew the antidote to crippling senioritis was more school?

In addition to a more focused environment, school is giving us hybrid kids a routine, a reason to get up and keep going during this seemingly endless pandemic. I actually get up at a reasonable hour, put on real people clothes (not sweats), and drive my car to and from school. That, combined with the moving between classes, visiting teachers, and seeing old classmates, has somewhat forced me to renew my routine and energy, and it’s done wonders for mine as well as other students’ mental health.

Not to mention, as a senior, I really wanted some closure to my time at Cal High. It may be sappy, but I don’t think I could really reckon with March 13, 2020 being my last day of high school. Even if I’ll never go to ball or do any other “classic” senior activities, at least I can say I finished senior year the way I wanted to.

I’m sure there are plenty of students who signed up for hybrid just because of the unfulfilled promise of two asynchronous days per week, or because their mom filled out the declaration form without telling them. But the overwhelming majority of us here at school are actually glad to be back.

So, is hybrid school worth it? I guess it depends on how you define “worth it”. For me, having a routine, seeing new faces, and closing out the year feeling good almost makes up for a year of the pandemic. For others, staying at home in order to stay as safe as possible or in order to avoid confusion with classes and schedules is worth more remote learning.

All I know is that when I pull into the Cal parking lot four days a week, I’m happy with the way things are going.