Just as students have finally started to occupy classrooms in Perkiomen Valley High School, it may be a matter of time before the hallways and corridors again echo the sounds of silence as the debate between virtual and hybrid schooling rages on.
With the possibility of another shutdown looming, 2020 continues to exert its will daily, proving again and again that no matter how far advanced our technology may be, there are forces of nature that can push the human condition to the brink of insanity.
On Friday March 13, 2020, student life as it had been known changed forever when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that the state was closing down all public and private schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the globe.
Fast forward to September 29,2020, the day that the school board deemed that all freshmen would return to the physical building, employing a hybrid model of the schedule. In the hybrid schedule adapted by the ninth grade, each student has four days of online “virtual” classes and is “on site” at PV for two days of each cycle. As of November 9, 2020 all grade levels are now back in session at Perk Valley and thus far the reviews have been mixed.
Freshman, Kailie Jordan, said. “On occasion I see some people not wearing their masks correctly or bunching up in the hallways. Otherwise, I feel safe.”
“My only concern about being in school is that something will happen to me since I can’t really breathe in a mask,” ninth grader Ty Hall said. “I found a face covering that I could breath in [Gaiter] but I was hassled for wearing it, I don’t understand this.”
While Hall, Jordan and others in the student body do not seem to harbor any great concern or anxiety about being back in school, the attendance on site would indicate there is a large contingency of PV students that have chosen to continue their virtual studies.
“I do not feel safe around that many people right now,” Alex Thompson, sophomore, said. “I’ve seen schools open and immediately close because they can’t contain the virus. Wearing a mask makes me feel claustrophobic.”
Despite many students’ reservations and apprehension about safety during the COVID-19 era, the majority of faculty at Perkiomen Valley, which is clearly venturing into uncharted ground, seems to be taking it in stride thus far.
“It’s hard to say [if students display anxiety] in some cases students will be anxious because they will get to be around their friends and teachers again, I think our students have adjusted well and am proud of the way they are conducting themselves,” said Red House Counselor Ms. Moliver.
Moliver does not seem to be alone in her confidence in the ability to keep students and staff safe while providing a much needed escape from the outside world.
“Since this is something I don’t decide, I have not thought much about it,” Ms. Witman, physical education teacher, said. “In the end I think students need to be in school for their social and emotional well being. From what I understand, the spread of COVID is not happening in school, it is outside of school activities where it is contracted.”
The “in school” or ”virtual schooling” debate has students and faculty on both sides of the fence, weighing out the risks versus reward in their minds.
“I do feel like we should have stayed online to keep everyone safe,” French teacher Madame Fleshier said. “I also feel like I can provide more to my students not having to balance in class and online at the same time.”
Some of the students have even voiced their opinions noting that they feel teachers are oblivious to what is really going on when they are not paying attention. The same students have also indicated that they have reservations when it comes to ¨feeling safe at school.¨
“Some kids take their mask off to talk or cough or sneeze,” freshman Ella Reiter said.”
With the infectious capability of this virus, the school has addressed that it is paramount that the students follow the health guidelines and that the faculty monitors and upholds the rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which does not always seem to be the case according to many students.
“Trust is a strong word,” replied sophomore Lily Ternak when asked if she trusted in the school’s ability to keep her safe.
“Some teachers do not keep their mask on,” freshman Sophia Hoffman said. “They take them off or keep their nose out which makes me feel uncomfortable.”
“I only worry because people often remove their masks when teachers are not watching,” Tobias Hess, also a freshman said.
The freshman class has been back in hybrid mode the longest, and has spent the most time back in the building.
The Perkiomen Valley school district has emphasized that student safety is its first priority at every level, but unfortunately as in many high school forums, there are those who choose to make light of the severity of precautions or just flat out do not respect others.
“People cough on others and think it’s funny, and I am concerned about getting shut down again,” Jacob Miley said.
Lunchtime and the daily trek to the Perkiomen Valley cafe presents an entirely different challenge as it is the period of the day where students are most vulnerable, because they do not wear their face coverings during lunch.
Some of the areas of biggest concern are the lunch room, the hallways and even the bus ride into school as those are the situations where the students are in the closest proximity to each other.
The rhetoric can continue back and forth about the pros and cons of online versus in-school instruction, but it seems as though all involved will have to adopt the wait and see approach as it is a fluid situation every day.
According to sources the Montgomery County board of health has ordered all schools in the county to shift completely virtual between November 23rd and December 6, 2020 .
With more adaptations and restrictions on the horizon, the ¨in school classroom /virtual school saga appears to be ready to carry into the new year.