April 22nd, 2021 was the first time in 412 days that all ORHS students could be in school at the same time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last March.
Although there were a few minor issues to work out including four lunches, working with remote and in-person students at the same time, and general adjustments due to being in-person for five days a week, students and teachers alike shared excitement to be back and the week went well. About 80% of the ORHS study body returned for the all-in person model, with the remainder of students staying remote. This decision to go back with all-in was made following a series of events, including all teachers having the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC reducing social distancing requirements in classrooms from six feet to three feet, and NH governor Chris Sununu mandating a full return to in-person school.
Mark Milliken, ORHS Dean of Faculty, spoke to the first week and said, “I would say there have been no major issues. Some more minor issues would be that we still have some teachers who have to be remote, so it’s a challenge for what to do with those in-person students […] Another challenge would be that teachers naturally teach to the in-person kids, so the remote kids might feel a little out of the picture.”
While faculty had some things to work out throughout the week including navigating concurrent teaching, students had some things to adjust to as well. “The biggest things I had to get used to were taking tests [in-person] and adjusting my sleep schedule. I got so used to getting up 10 minutes before my first class started that when I started going back to school, the time I would have normally gone to bed was too late at night,” said Calla Tucker (‘21).
Although it was something to get used to, the start of this model has gone well and students have been enjoying being in-person full time. “It was really fun [being back in-school.] I really appreciate all the school is doing to allow us to be in person, even if it is for such a short time, especially for the seniors. I’ve been wanting to go back since the pandemic hit so I felt a relief when I was finally able to go back and see teachers and friends that I haven’t seen in so long. Overall, I’m just glad I get to experience somewhat of a normal senior year for this last month,” said Zoe Smith (‘21).
For freshmen students, this week was especially exciting, and potentially nerve wracking, as this was their first time ever being in the high school for five days a week. “I was super excited to be going in 5 days a week. All year I wanted to see what a normal schedule would be like to prepare me for future years and I’m so happy that I am getting the opportunity to do that […] It was a little intimidating the first week because I didn’t know what to expect with everyone in the building but I really liked being in person once I learned my way around,” said Talia Banafato (‘24).
While students like Banafato enjoyed being back in school full time, teachers did just as much. Jaclyn Jensen, ORHS social studies teacher, said, “It was awesome [to be back in school 5-days a week] […] It’s really great to be able to see students in-person and talk to them, follow up with them in-person.”
Teachers were surely happy to be back but, “there were a lot of nervous people, and people made comments like, ‘there’s so many people in my room, I haven’t been around that many people,’ but that kind of faded away. I think people got more used to it. Teachers had to come up with uses for technology and creative ways to reach remote students. A number of those strategies have proven to work, so they still want to do them with kids in person because they’re helpful,” said Milliken.
Jensen felt some of what Milliken described herself, and said, “Right behind the excitement is a lot of stress to make sure everything is going well and making sure that the students who are still home are getting a chance to access time with teachers and that they understand everything […] There’s a layer of trying to figure out what’s going to work teaching concurrently and making sure everyone gets the support they need.”
Teachers did have to get used to being in-person all 5 days a week, but they had some experience under their belt, because this is not the first model the ORHS community has had. ORHS has implemented various models throughout the school year to accommodate the changing health recommendations and NH state requirements due to COVID-19. Before the current all-in model, the school had students coming for in-person learning two days a week. However, each classroom was capped at half capacity due to the six feet distancing requirement. Students in the first half of the alphabet came in on Monday and Tuesday, while the second half of the alphabet came in on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday was a day with no in-person school for reassessment and re-learning.
However, as of March 19th, 2021, the CDC revised the physical distance recommendations to needing at least 3 feet between students, with everyone wearing masks.“Looking at the most recent guidance from the CDC as well as NH DHHS, they indicated that the highest risk scenarios are when masks are off and in close contact with another. The only time during a school day when this should be taking place is when eating in the cafeteria. ORCSD decided to stay at the 6 feet social distance for these high-risk scenarios, and follow guidance stating 3 feet is acceptable if masks are on,” shared ORHS school nurse Kim Wolph.
On April 1st NH governor Sununu mandated that schools had to re-open for in-person learning five days a week by April 19th. Due to the faculty vaccine clinic and the PSATs, ORHS had an exception that allowed it to implement the model on Thursday the 22nd. This led to the district creating an updated, in-person five day a week model. Implementing this model was supported by the fact that many ORHS teachers are now fully vaccinated thanks to the ORCSD clinic on March 24th. For more information on the clinic, click here. There was also a student vaccine clinic on April 17th where students had the opportunity to receive the vaccine.
While the distancing requirements and mandate played a role in the time this model was implemented, the school had been considering transitioning into a full in-person model prior to the governor’s mandate. ORHS had a draft of a new schedule when the order was announced, but then ran into some difficulties with the proposed schedule. One of the main issues was that four lunches were required. Since students have to eat lunch without masks on, six feet of distance still had to be maintained in the cafeteria. However not every student stays in the building for lunch. Students can choose to go elsewhere for lunch which many have done.
A change with this new schedule is that ORHS now begins at 8:00am instead of 8:15am, and ends at 2:35pm instead of 3:05pm. Another change occured with Wednesday’s schedule. Since March of 2020, Wednesday had exclusively been an asynchronous, relearning day. For the past year, many students relied on Wednesdays as a day for catching up on work. Similarly, for teachers, “Wednesday was the day to do everything you didn’t have time for on the other days. I was doing a lot of meetings with students, giving feedback on work, grading, planning, and everything like that,” said Jensen. Because of this, the district did not make Wednesday a normal instructional day in the new schedule. On Wednesdays, students come into school at 8:00am and leave at 12:35pm. Each class period is 35 minutes, and most teachers have decided to use these short class periods as a work period where students receive no extra work or new material.
While lots of work time might have been appealing to students, some were not fans of the Wednesday modification. “I understand they wanted to make Wednesday actual class days again because we already have lost so much time, but I felt completely drained by the end of this first Wednesday because I went through seven straight classes with no real break. It honestly felt longer than other school days even though we got out earlier because there was no time to take a breath between everything,” said Smith, who was previously a fully remote student.
Banafato agreed, and said, “I do miss having Wednesdays as a relearning day, I think that the 35 minute classes seem a little rushed and they don’t help me too much overall.” Despite some mixed opinions of the Wednesday schedule, the rest of the week’s schedule was similar to what it had been, and was not a major adjustment.
As Milliken mentioned earlier, there were some minor issues to work out and adjustments to be made, but everyone is getting settled now and is happy to be back. Milliken said, “It’s a step toward normalcy. It’s not 100% of the population which allows us to learn from our mistakes and adapt and revise as we see what works and what doesn’t work […] It’s been good for adults and kids to see that we can do this and make this work. It’s not exactly normal, but it’s getting there.”