Opposing viewpoints: The return to campus

Editorial note: Sabre editors Amalia Villegas Vegas and Orla Collins explain why they feel strongly about their decisions to not return and return to campus this week. The opinions expressed here are solely the opinions of the writers and do not reflect the viewpoints of The Sabre.

Orla Collins: Why I am returning to campus

St. John’s has begun the transition to hybrid learning this week, and with this change have come many opinions. Students were given the option to either continue with fully virtual learning or come for in-person learning on their assigned cohort days. Personally, I felt strongly that it was necessary to return to school.

For me, the sudden switch to virtual learning was a rough adjustment in the spring. My once highly scheduled days were now empty except for a few random 20 minute meetings and long list of assignments on Canvas. While the changes made to the plan for fall greatly improved the experience, it was still lacking most of what made school fun. Every day, my eyes get tired of looking at the screen and I find myself having difficulty focusing in class about half way through the day, something I never struggled with in-person.

Virtual school continues to lack any of the spirit or camaraderie that made the days enjoyable. I’m now expected to do more independent learning than ever before, while not being able to see my friends in-between classes or at lunch. Most of the fall events that I looked forward to like football games and homecoming have been cancelled or postponed. My senior cross country season has been sadly condensed and postponed to the new year, despite months of preparation.

I also found that instruction has changed significantly since we were learning in-person last year. Classes are much less engaging over Zoom and most of my classes either have much lower expectations for our progress or expect the same with less help available. We’re almost through the first quarter and in most of my classes, I haven’t had a single test. It’s been a struggle to learn how to deal with asynchronous days when I’m often expected to learn a lesson on my own, something that would have never been asked of me in-person. It’s strange to imagine how we went from five full classes a week to now only two days of full class. It’s been very difficult for me to understand how we could possibly be getting as much out of classes with the time spent together condensed by so much.

But being back in the hallways on Tuesday restored a sense of normalcy I hadn’t felt in eight months. Being able to have real, live conversations with people was something I hadn’t even realized I missed so much! I found it so much easier to engage with the material and ask questions in class when I’m actually in the classroom instead of my kitchen at home. While I missed not seeing a lot of my friends who are in different cohorts, the difference between hybrid and virtual learning for me is immense.

I feel certain that St. John’s plan to return to school took into account the advice of many experts and is as robust as possible to keep everyone in our community safe. I do strongly support that there should be a virtual option for those students and staff who may be in a high-risk group, but I would encourage anyone who is able to to come to class on your cohort day. All of my classes were under eight people, so social distancing was easy. For lunch, I was able to sit outside with friends, something I haven’t done since March!

It certainly is different than last fall, but these days I feel like I have to count my blessings. There are many kinks still to work out like, why do I have to be logged onto the Zoom in the classroom when the classroom camera is already pointed at the students? Haven’t figured that out yet. However, I am grateful that St. John’s has found a way to bring our community back together safely and if I could, I’d be back in class five days a week!

Amalia Villegas Vega: Why I am not returning to campus:

I have decided not to return to school in the hybrid model largely for safety reasons. I do not believe that St. John’s can properly handle the partial return to school properly. I personally have been closely following CDC guidelines since mid-March and have only seen people outside of my family three times, socially distanced and wearing masks. I am aware that this is not the case for many of my peers. I understand that some are working and have been in contact with other people recently, and I don’t have an issue with that. I am also aware of others who have been meeting in larger groups without the proper precautions to protect against the deadly virus. Doing this and then returning to school in person is incredibly irresponsible, unsafe, dangerous, and selfish.

I also do not believe that hybrid learning would truly enhance my learning experience. Three of my seven teachers will continue teaching remotely. At that point, there is very little point in actually returning in person if I will only be interacting with four of my teachers in person. Furthermore, the cohorts greatly limit the number of students in class. Often there are a total of 5 or 6 students in person and occasionally as few as 1 or 2. This is not the same as a true classroom experience – which is what I assume the goal of hybrid learning is. This makes the structure of hybrid learning just a virtual class with a fraction of the students in the same room. In some classes, the in person students log into Zoom from their iPads which seems to defeat the purpose of hybrid learning as it adds nothing to the learning experience.

Overall, hybrid learning seems like a last minute plan to try to appease members of the St. John’s community who have been pushing for a return to in school learning but doesn’t improve the learning experience in any way. In fact, it seems to take away from it. I will not be returning to in person school because I do not trust that the proper precautions are being taken to protect health. Without testing or regulating outside school gatherings, it is only a matter of time before people start getting sick.

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