Blazers support a mix of virtual and in-person learning for Blair's reopening.
On July 10, MCPS formally proposed two different models for reopening schools in the fall. The county said that the document is just a draft of the final plan, which will be sent to the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) in early August.
The first model for the fall is a blend of virtual and in-school learning, and the second is only virtual learning. MCPS also included sample schedules for elementary, middle, and high school students, as well as a list of health and safety practices that schools must follow during the school year.
Families that wish to keep their children at home for virtual learning instead of sending them to in-person classes would have the opportunity to choose virtual learning only.
This followed a survey released on June 25 asking for parent feedback on different options for the school district’s reopening in the fall. The survey asked parents about their students' access to the internet and devices for online learning. Parents could voice their opinion on what schools should focus on when they reopen, such as physical health, equity of opportunity, and social needs.
MCPS initially looked at three models for reopening schools: continuing with virtual online learning, combining virtual online and in-person learning, and reopening schools completely with some restrictions such as social distancing.
Earlier that month, the MSDE published its Recovery Plan for Education, which requires that local school systems post their reopening plans online by August 14. This will give teachers and students an idea of what a typical school day looks like. Maryland's plan also listed 13 requirements for the reopening of schools, which included safety protocols from the CDC and a guide to achieving equity in education.
By the time that MCPS published the draft of its plan to reopen schools, over 55,000 parents/guardians had completed the survey.
MCPS has asked parents to submit feedback on the draft. This can be done by going to http://www.mcpssubmitfeedback.org/
While MCPS did not include plans to restart student athletics, the MDSE recommended that each school district create a committee that uses guidance from the state to regulate school athletics in the fall.
Blair Principal Renay Johnson elaborated that students will soon be able to start team practices for fall sports. "I talked to Ms. Boule [Blair's athletic director] and she said that right now we are scheduled to have fall sports start on August 12. I know we will have to be within the requirements of health and safety guidelines, but I'm hoping we can manage it," Johnson said.
Sports are just one issue that Johnson and her administrative team have considered about reopening Blair. The most significant one has been the school's population.
Blair's 3400 students present a significant challenge in reopening the school this coming fall. For senior Gabriel Argueta, having a mix of in-person and online learning seemed like the best option for Blair. "I am absolutely in agreement with the option to have a mix of online and in-person classes because it avoids the problem of having too many people at school," said Argueta.
Rising junior Lauren Berley agreed that a mix of both in-person and online learning would be best, and questioned whether it would be safe for students to return to school completely. "I would love to go back to school and have it be normal, but it's not realistic or the best for the health of the students since Blair is such a big school," Berley said.
While MCPS said that it would enforce social distancing measures if students returned to school, Berley and Argueta were both dubious that students would follow these rules. "I don't know how social distancing would work considering that Blair is already overcrowded," Berley said.
Johnson echoed that keeping students apart would be difficult. "The greatest challenge will be to keep them apart. Teens do what teens do best. They test the limits, but they also like each other and they haven't seen each other for a long time," Johnson said.
Steve Amonles, a rising junior, said that he would like to have in-person classes a few times a week because he has missed seeing familiar faces. "Going to school is great because you can socialize with your friends," Amonles said.
While these Blazers agreed that returning to school part-time in the fall would be the best for students, they had mixed experiences regarding MCPS's attempt at online learning in the late 2019-2020 schoolyear.
Amonles enjoyed the freedom of at-home learning and found himself being more productive than he had been at school. "By learning at home, I can make my own schedule and I have a lot of time to do my homework," Amonles said
Berley, on the other hand, found learning course material online challenging. "For chem, it was really difficult for me not to have any face-to-face meetings because while teachers had the choice to have Zoom classes, many didn't," Berley said.
Johnson acknowledged that online learning will have to be revamped for the fall. "I know there were some complaints from parents across the county last spring about students not having a rigorous experience, so we really want to make sure that we up the rigor and have students and teachers meet more synchronously than asynchronously if at all possible," Johnson said.
Argueta's experience with at-home learning was uneventful, but he said that Blair responded well to the COVID-19 health crisis. "I think that the school reacted well as they closed the school before there were a lot of cases," Argueta said.
As MCPS moves to make its decision on how the school year will look this fall, the health needs of students and their families will be balanced with students' desire to see their classmates and teammates in the fall. Berley hopes that MCPS refines its online learning and gives more specific guidelines for its teachers on how to teach with it. "I would say [to MCPS] be intentional and specific in whatever decision you are making. If we are at home we actually need to be able to learn instead of just getting busywork until the end of the school year."
Myles Feingold-Black. Hey! I'm Myles, and I'm a junior staff writer here at SCO. If I'm not writing a story, you can probably find me winding through Takoma Park either on a bike or in my running shoes. More »