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End of an Era: Students and Teachers Reflect on Hybrid as Administration Releases Fully In-Person Model

Anushree Vashist ’21, Anjali Subramanian ’22, Melody Cui ’23
After 6 months of learning under the hybrid model, the Hopkins Community reflects on the challenges and opportunities it presented and their early reactions to a return to fully in-person learning this Spring. 
The hybrid schedule consists of ten-minute passing periods and a two-hour break in the middle of the day. Claire Billings ’25 explains her thoughts on this new schedule: “There is plenty of time to get places, and the period in the middle of the day is great for hanging out with friends when I'm at school and great for sitting around or doing homework at home.” Ayelet Kaminski ’22 agrees, “It gives me more time to rest between classes and at school, I don't need to stress about being late.” Geneva Cunningham ’21 counters, believing that “we [don’t] need as much free time in the middle of the day.” Cunningham prefers “less time in the middle so we can get out earlier.”

Several students also miss having Wednesdays off, like in the Spring 2020 Schedule. Isabel Melchinger ’21 explains, “I would love Wednesdays off. Five days of Zoom every single week is really hard and the Owl makes learning so difficult.” (The Owl Meeting Pro is a 360° camera installed in each classroom to allow students at home to see the whole classroom.) Gisella Castagna ’22 likes having Wednesdays off to focus on her mental health: “It gave me some extra homework time and I used it as a mental health day. I am already so disconnected from reality that I might just get totally detached if we implement it again, but I wish Hopkins could incorporate full days off for mental health into the schedule.” Arthur Fusscas ’26 says, “I do think that Zoom is much more exhausting than actual school, so having Wednesdays off would be nice;” however, Fusscas notes that “[w]ith classes meeting less often in the first place, having Wednesdays off on top of that would [put] Hopkins way behind schedule.”
Faculty seemed to have similarly ambivalent feelings about Wednesdays off. Math teacher Kathy Chavez is in support of such a change, adding that she “could have office hours for extra help and planning.” English teacher Stephen May, though, “really struggled to adjust to the schedule last spring,” saying: “[I]t felt wonky and it made my job as an English teacher harder. There's always going to be a subset of students for whom reading assignments are anathema, and, for them, the need to read larger chunks of text-only made things more challenging.”

The frequency of class meetings under the hybrid model has led to concern about the pacing of courses, with some teachers struggling to cover the normal curriculum while others are able to get by with little to no changes. History teacher Megan Maxwell states: “AP classes are suffering. There's just not enough time to do all the content.” On the other hand, English teacher Ian Melchinger comments, “I judge curriculum by what students remember, not on what we ‘covered.’ I think students are remembering about the same.” Similar to Ian Melchinger, Math teacher John Isaacs has been able to stay on schedule but explains that classes are “leaving out some details that are enriching” in order to do so. Isaacs also observes that “not having a mid-year exam gave us back some time.”
When asked about the long-term sustainability of the hybrid model, Kaminski said it was a “temporary solution.” She explains, “It's really hard to adjust week to week to in-person and virtual learning. They’re two very different learning styles and require different routines and coping mechanisms.” Kaminski also believes, “It’s really demoralizing to go to school when most of your friends are in the other cohort. It’s like you've spent the past couple years getting to know everyone and finding your best friends, then suddenly it’s like you don't even go to the same school anymore.” Haniya Farooq ’22 thinks that the “Hybrid [model] itself is definitely not sustainable, but the new block schedule is.” She explains, “Before I was constantly exhausted from the amount of classes and work I had to do, but now I feel like I'm getting the same educational experience and rigor but with the stress cut down. I used to sleep four hours a night and now I find myself actually sleeping seven or more.”

According to a recent survey by The Razor, students and faculty feel mostly safe given the current safety measures in place, with Spanish teacher Josh Brenner even calling the school’s Covid-19 protocols “top of the line.” Tyler Tagliarini ’26 agrees, adding, “I feel like Hopkins is doing a really good job in terms of Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing.” Math teacher Robert Studley also notes the strength of Hopkins’s measures, especially in comparison to that of other schools: “My children attend school in one district, my wife works in another school district, and I have friends and former colleagues in other districts. I think Hopkins has done the best job with safety when it comes to Covid-19 protocols. Students, faculty, staff, administrators have all worked hard and I feel safe every day.” English teacher Stephen May acknowledges the obvious concerns that exist during a pandemic but still believes the school’s safety measures are strong: “It's hard for me to imagine how Hopkins could be doing a better job. That isn't to say we're completely safe because there IS no completely safe. If we agree that part of what a school is is a gathering place—and that's how I personally feel—then we must accept some level of risk.”

Still, some concerns linger in regards to safety. Kaminski says that “by virtue of being in-person at all, the school is already exposing its students, staff, and faculty, to risk they might not have faced otherwise.” She continues, “[The] hybrid [model] isn't optimal in the cold months, especially since students are not allowed to eat in classrooms (meaning they have to either eat in the cold or with tens of other students and faculty, all unmasked, who they might not know or trust to not have Covid-19).” Vivian Huang ’26 mentions her parents’ concern about the Covid-19 situation and thinks “it would be better if we got the Covid test results earlier in the week so if someone was infected we would know right away.” 

Beyond physical health concerns about Covid-19, the combination of the hybrid model and the looming pandemic has resulted in a wide spectrum of opinions in regards to mental health. School Counselor Linda Romanchok suggests, “The pandemic has affected everyone (adults and children) in their own unique ways.” The possible effects on teenagers, in particular, has been a source of recent contention, with The New York Times reporting that “For Some Teens, It’s Been a Year of Anxiety and Trips to the E.R.”' Evident in The Razor’s surveying efforts is the vast scope of mental states. Some students reported feeling “good,” “alright,” and “pretty well,” while multiple teachers mentioned being “grateful” and “fine;” however, threads of exhaustion were common, too. History teacher Megan Maxwell noted that she “cycle[s] through despair and numbness.” English teacher Rebecca Marcus says that “the hybrid is beginning to wear on everyone. It’s been almost a full year since we adopted the model, and I think at this point many are enervated.” Math teacher Kathy Chavez says she’s “completely exhausted,” adding that the hybrid model “is absolutely unsustainable.” She continues, “Teachers are trying to do their best, but we feel like we are continuously failing [the students]. Most of us have kids at home that need tons of extra help with online school that is taking so much time.” Chavez also explains that teachers feel “sad,” elaborating: “Most [of] us went into teaching because we love being around people. Having everyone in masks and separated has taken an emotional toll on us too. I don't remember the last time I had a conversation face to face with a group of kids or faculty.” Isaacs feels similarly, noting that he “feel[s] a bit unmotivated at times,” and that “[t]eaching isn’t as fun in this model, so [his] energy is dragging a bit.” 

The mental health effects of the pandemic on students are leading many to lean towards something similar to the grade bracing system featured in the Spring 2020 quarter for the current hybrid model. Isabel Melchinger feels that classes are “just as high paced and rigorous as previous years.” Coupled with what she describes as a “huge mental toll on students” that the pandemic is taking, Isabel Melchinger notes that “a bit of a cushion would be nice.” Kaminski agrees, commenting that even though “everyone's better adjusted to virtual/hybrid school now, [it] doesn't mean we're not still in a pandemic. Students are just as stressed and overwhelmed.” Castagna echoes Isabel Melchinger and Kaminski, adding that “Mental health issues [are] not the fault of the individual and people shouldn't get punished if their grades slip for it.” 

Others are not in support of grade bracing and supply some alternatives to combat the effects of the pandemic and hybrid learning. Instead of grade bracing, Marcus explains that she would “rather see effort factored in more significantly and deliberately to grades than set constraints.” Dwyer Illick ’26 recommends that teachers “be aware of when kids do get worse grades directly because of online school” and to be “kinder with the grading” when that is the case.
The era of hybrid learning at Hopkins may be soon coming to an end. On February 23, 2021, Head of School Kai Bynum released a letter to students and families providing an update about the Spring quarter. “After careful planning and consideration, Hopkins School will shift from our Hybrid Learning Model to our Fully In-Person Model beginning on April 5, 2021” the letter reads. Students will still be able to opt for a fully virtual model, but those who wish to come to campus more frequently will not be restricted by their cohort assignments. 

Reactions to the new plan are mixed amongst students and faculty alike. Associate Director of College Counseling Sarah Tarrant Madden is “thrilled at the idea of seeing more students on campus” but has “some concerns beyond the obvious questions of potential viral spread.” She explains: “I worry that families who have been extremely cautious in the past year [...] might be more inclined to keep their children home–and safe. Those are the students who are most likely to really need the socialization of the school day.” Madden fears that “this move to invite everyone back before anyone is vaccinated might deepen that divide, encouraging those who are already out and about socializing, rather than finding a safer way to make sure every student is able to return.” 
Aaron Gruen ’21, while “excited to be with [his] fellow seniors for a final semester,” is “nervously optimistic,” especially given the less physical distancing that will be in place. Prairie Resch ’21 is in support of a full return to campus, saying she “find[s] virtual learning very hard [and] misses seeing people in person.” She does, though, note that “[w]e do have to remember that the pandemic isn’t over yet” and hopes that “the student body will continue to take [Covid-19] and the health guidelines (on and off-campus) seriously.” 
 Isaacs agrees with Resch, noting the important obligation students have in ensuring that SARS-CoV-2 transmission does not occur on campus: “Every family who has someone coming to campus really needs to double down in limiting their exposure.” Isaacs elaborates, “It’s critical that as school activity/population increases that people decrease their out of school activities such as dining out, shopping and social gatherings. If you are gathering in public places, involved in extracurricular activities, gathering with others, you should attend school remotely.” Isaacs’ assessment of risk during a pandemic is in line with pediatrician Dr. Aaron Carroll’s advice in August: “[A]s we loosen restrictions in some areas, we should be increasing restrictions in others. If kids are going to take on more risk at school, they should find ways to be even safer outside of it [...] Too many view protective measures as all or nothing: Either we do everything, or we might as well do none. That’s wrong. Instead, we need to see that all our behavior adds up.”
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