The first week back


Photo by Nora Fitzgerald

The doors and hallways in the school now boast an abundance of signs, reminding students which way they can go, proper mask etiquette and more.

This past week marked the start of second semester and for many Naperville North students, a return to in-person learning. The week was met with a variety of challenges; confusing one way hallways, temperature check entrance lines and technological hurdles, but like always, the students and staff of Naperville North persevered. 

For some, like senior Matilda Ingils, this week brought along a special milestone: the last first day, the eighth and final new schedule in what has certainly been an interesting high school journey. 

¨For us seniors it is our final semester of high school and that is definitely a bit bittersweet,¨ Inglis said. 

However, for other students, such as freshman Reagan O’Malley, this week was the start of their high school experience in the building. North’s freshmen had to navigate everything that comes with a new building in addition to the challenges posed by the hybrid model.

¨The hallways were really confusing, there were a lot of times where I had to make a full circle just to get to one class¨ O’Malley said.

The week began with a new Monday structure. Starting at 10:25 A.M., students met with each of their classes online for a 30 minute period with the school day ending at 3 P.M. Some students, like Inglis, are undecided on if they like this new structure better than the previous asynchronous Mondays. She liked how last semester Mondays allowed her to work at her own pace, but she is optimistic that the new model will keep her more focused through the day.

¨I’m not quite sure where I stand, a little bit in between¨  Inglis said. 

Sophomore Akash Bansal expressed understanding for the necessity of the change.

 ¨I liked the asynchronous Mondays but I understand why they needed to change it, because for some people Mondays weren’t working,¨ Bansal said.

On Tuesday, the “blue group” of North students who opted for the hybrid model attended in-person classes for the first time. Similar to the structure of last semester, periods one through four were held on Tuesday while Wednesdays saw periods five through eight. Students selected either the hybrid model or the all online model for a variety of reasons. Senior Nyah Woller-Li chose to be online because it was the best decision for her family, while Inglis opted for the hybrid model because of the benefits that come with hands-on learning.

¨I don’t have a good attention span, so it became difficult to focus for the 85 minute class periods. I am more of a hands-on learner so being able to be in person with a teacher who can explain things was important to me,¨ Inglis said. 

For many, the hybrid model offered a break from what had been a tiring and often isolating semester. Some students, like Bansal, picked the hybrid model because of the social aspect it offered, while others sought a change in routine.

¨I was so tired doing everything from home and I was so excited to go into school and have a semi-normal environment¨ O’Malley said. 

While Tuesday was certainly not a seamless transition into in person learning, there were many successes, and learning experiences, that came with it. Woller-Li highlighted the important role technology played in enhancing the learning experience of online learners. It is important that teachers use technology effectively because it is online students only window into the classroom. She found it beneficial when teachers had two microphones in the classroom, so that both in person students and the teacher could be heard over zoom.

¨Technology wise, I think the school did a very good job,¨ Woller-Li said. 

A major challenge teachers will face throughout the semester is ensuring that students — no matter the model they selected — feel included and a part of the class. Woller-Li thinks it would be a good idea for teachers to experiment with icebreaker activities so that students can bridge the disconnect between online and hybrid learners.

¨With a group being all online it’s even more important for us to get to know who we are working with,¨ Woller-Li said.

Every instructor conducted class differently and for many students, some ways were more appealing than others. Inglis had two favorites in particular. One structure Inglis appreciated was when a teacher screenshared  with students on zoom, while also projecting the same screen for in-person kids to see. She felt this helped keep everyone connected and working at the same pace. Another method where the teacher split the class in half, teaching first to the in person students while the online students worked on an assignment, and switching halfway, appealed to Inglis for a variety of reasons.

¨This model helps you form a connection with the teacher and your classmates, but you still have plenty of time to get your work done and receive help from the teacher¨ Inglis said.

Woller-Li also felt it was beneficial when all students joined the Zoom so that students at home were able to see all of their classmates and feel included in the conversation. Bansal also realizes the importance of making online students feel heard and valued, given that they are not physically in the classroom. Monitoring the chat, making sure microphones and cameras are working, and teachers actively engaging with the students on Zoom are all ways to ensure that online students feel acknowledged.

¨Some people are online only and they don’t feel as valued as the students in school,¨  Bansal said.

Some students, like O’Malley and Inglis, immediately noticed changes in their focus and attention span as a result of in person learning. 

¨What I have found over this past week is that I am able to focus a lot more in person,¨ Inglis said. 

One positive thing many students noted was the adaptations teachers made throughout the week. Whether it was implementing new technology or learning from the feedback students offered, it was clear that the NNHS staff made an effort to improve the quality of learning for every student as much as they could. 

¨From the first to second day I already noticed positive changes,¨ Inglis said.

This semester will certainly pose a variety of education challenges, but so long as the students and staff of Naperville North work to overcome them together, the future looks bright.

¨I was impressed how well this week went, and I know it will definitely improve over time¨ O’Malley said.