Return to ORHS: The First Week of the New 50/50 Model

One year ago, ORHS closed its doors until further notice. Since then, teachers and students had been patiently waiting to return for full classes. Things seem to be looking up, as in-person classes were finally able to resume last week.

With the decision to implement a 50/50 remote and in-person model, in-person students had their first day in school on March 8th and 11th. Teachers were finally able to teach students they hadn’t met in a face to face setting, allowing for a more productive work environment, according to some students. With the new 50/50 model, about 50% of all students chose to attend in-person classes. Those students are split up alphabetically, with one half of the group going in on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays. It may not have been the smoothest transition, but having students back in school seems to already be benefiting everyone in the building. 

Mark Milliken, the Dean of Faculty at ORHS, evaluated how the first week of the 50/50 model went. “I think it went really well. It was awesome to see faces and kids,” Milliken said. “I think it’s great that it gives us a chance to see how it works and make adaptations on the fly. By working this out we’ll be in a better place to add more students later.”

Tate Sullivan (‘22) chose to attend in-person classes in the 50/50 model, and is happy to be back in school. Sullivan has noticed that in an in-person setting he feels more motivated to work and stay on task, as there can be more distractions while at home. “I definitely think that [I missed] social pressure, and that motivation to do work,” Sullivan said. “I think [being in-person] is definitely better for me. I struggled with online learning and motivation, as well as not having the social aspect, so I definitely prefer this model.”

When planning the 50/50 model, making sure that both students and staff were safe at all times was priority. ORHS has set up rules and guidelines to make sure everyone in school can learn safely. “Every single classroom was measured for six feet of social distancing as far as furniture goes. The hallways and stairways have been lined for one-direction traffic, the cafeteria [was measured] six feet apart, and some shields were up, as well as cleaning and disinfecting,” Milliken explained. “A lot, a lot, of planning went into making sure we adhered to social distancing and the six foot rule.” 

Besides safety, communication is the key to the new 50/50 model. Milliken said that with teachers listening, communicating, and sharing advice with each other, they have been able to solve problems or any kinks in the new model. “I think it’s going to keep evolving,” explained Milliken, while talking about the new model. “We definitely had things to work out, things that we revised once we saw what it looked like in-person, because when you plan you are planning a concept. We did have to make some revisions, but the teachers were very flexible and worked to make it happen.”

When it comes to teachers and ORHS staff, they can all agree on one thing: school has been exhausting this past week. When teaching both remote and in-person students, teachers have the option to use the 80 minute block to teach both groups at the same time, or to split the block in half and teach the remote and in-person students at different times. Most teachers have used the block to teach all their students at once, such as ORHS teacher Vivian Jablonski. 

Jablonski describes this experience of having to balance two different groups of students in one class period as “draining.” “It is exhausting. I am so tired because doing it at once is like you’re keeping track of two different groups, and two different setups. The way I have it, I need to make sure what’s on my board is showing exactly to what’s on the remote kids.”

Despite the struggles, Jablonski has been happy to have students back in her classroom. As a math teacher, it can be hard to get students to ask her questions over a Teams call, but she’s found that even in just a few days of in-person classes, students have been more likely to ask for help. 

“There are a number of students I’ve had who have had a really hard time focusing and staying on top of work when they were fully remote, and having them in my classroom, I can tell they are feeling better too,” said Jablonski. Not only has Jablonski noticed more participation and productivity in class, but students are even finding they are getting more work completed in-person. 

Another student who had her first class in school over a week ago, Nori Sandin (‘23), agrees that there are social parts of school that just can’t be replaced in a remote world. “I’m looking forward to being able to meet my teachers in-person and get to know them, especially when more of them come back. I think that something very valuable for a class is the personal relationship you have with your teacher,” said Sandin.

While Sandin and Jablonski would agree that making that connection with a teacher allows students to feel comfortable in a class setting, there are still some struggles for in-person students. Jablonski has seen students use their in class time to ask questions when needed, but Sandin argues asking questions during a meeting with remote students can be difficult. “It’s harder for me to speak up and ask a question if I’m in the building and my teacher is there [as well]. For the most part I had a good experience. It can be a little bit difficult when most of the kids are remote, and then you’re in-person,” explained Sandin. “There can be a bit of a divide there, but overall it went pretty well for me. I think most of the teachers were pretty good at including all the students.”

With that divide, teachers can have a hard time finding balance between the two groups of students. For Jablonski, teaching two different groups of students means a lot of running back and forth from the whiteboard to the computer, making sure each student can see and understand what she is doing. Jablonski also found that the teaching setting was fragile, and any loss of wifi connection could affect her class for both remote and in-person students. 

With the in-person and remote student groups, Milliken noticed that, “Some of the teachers were very aware that they were naturally sending more attention towards the in-person kids than they were the remote kids. That’s something that’s human nature that you just have to really be aware of.”

Each class seems to function better in an in-person setting, but some classes have struggled more than others in a remote world. For art and music teachers, having students back in-person had made teaching much more effective. 

Art teacher Timothy Lawrence was able to teach his in-person classes without the struggle or limitations that a remote model encompasses. “It was just amazing to see the struggle disappear. A picture is worth 1000 words. My hands are the picture that shows [students in-person], but I’ve got to use the 1000 words in remote because sometimes it’s so hard to show people what we’re trying to show them,” Lawrence described.

Lawrence explained that his classroom is not set up for a remote setting, as the acoustics and light make it difficult for his online students to follow along. Working with things like color can be difficult when his students are seeing a different color than what is really there. When students came back into the building, all those problems that Lawrence and his classes were struggling with seemed to vanish. “I was amazed at how quickly we got things done in-person,” said Lawrence. 

Despite the hiccups that occured last week, everyone seems to be excited to have the chance to be back in the building. After seeing students in the halls after such a long period of vacancy, Milliken is happy to have them back. “It was so great to see kids and say hi. This has been a year of incredible change, growth, and maturity,” Milliken remarked. “Even though we see half a face, telling bad jokes to kids is something I missed. It was fun to just interact again.”

Artwork by Riley Brown