OPINION: JCPS community adjusts to new learning, reflects on losses

Jessica Carney-Perks

The long-awaited day of the Jefferson County Public Schools to return to in-person instruction commenced March 17, 2021. This transition back into the classroom was over the course of three weeks; starting with elementary schools on March 17 based on grade level which was followed by the return of middle and high school students on April 5.

Students were to return in alphabetical or grade level rotation separated into groups A or B.

Students that wished to remain at home could continue virtual learning.

Group A would return to school Monday and Tuesday. Group B would return Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would be reserved for virtual learning and a cleaning day for janitorial staff.

Each school has a differing schedule and approach to virtual learning for the consideration of their teachers. Resources such as access to meals, counseling support, college readiness, tutoring, mentorship and many others are still available to both virtual and in-person students.

Students still have the opportunity to transition to virtual learning if they choose for the remainder of the year. 

What may seem ridiculous or unnecessary to some is monumental for not only JCPS students but teachers and faculty as well. After a year of Non-Traditional Instruction, the school day has been simplified to synchronous classes online and asynchronous work. 

For some students, however, this complex yet, simplified transition was more stressful on students than expected. Students throughout JCPS were struggling to stay on top of work, stay focused in synchronous meetings, and balance the lack of separation from school and home. Fellow writers Emma Presnell and KC Ciresi have also captured these experiences of struggle in their pieces, JCPS is breaking us with NTI and Majority of Manual students prefer in-person school.

The chaotic transition to virtual learning has not only impacted Manual students but, the entire JCPS population. As reported by correspondents of WDRB,  over 60,000 JCPS students were failing their classes as of December 2020. The elimination of the in-person component made it difficult for many students to be successful without the ability to interact with other students, receive one-on-one assistance and socialize beyond a mutable mic. 

Teachers have had to be flexible with their own home situation and the impending battles with their job role. Teachers, like students, have had to rearrange their schedules, mindsets, priorities and even stamina to complete or even continue virtual learning. 

Administrators and other faculty have had to troubleshoot, strategize and create backup plan after backup plan to relieve some of this anxiety for students and teachers. Faculty have become more diligent and tedious about masks, restroom breaks, class transitions, lunches, dismissal and even classroom setup to follow CDC guidelines to provide a safer school environment. Everyone has had to become flexible to make this return in person not only possible but successful. 

Particularly for Manual students, the importance of in-person return was more than returning to friends but returning to a sense of normalcy following a year of much loss.

Students lost friends, family and stability over the course of the pandemic. 

They experienced the overwhelming nature of social injustice after the loss of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd while balancing the completion of work before the end of the six weeks.

They were participating and witnessing protests over something much bigger than NTI but, battling historical stigmas and continued societal oppression in the midst of an exhaustive presidential election. 

Students have lost opportunities to enjoy and embrace raving Male versus Manual games, spirit week, proms, pep rallies, Ramstock and everything that seemed to make Manual come alive. 

Students lost the opportunity to thrive and shine due to the pressures of NTI scheduling and the homework load.

Beyond social gatherings and in-person learning, the Manual community lost something much greater. Manual lost a student and dear friend to many, Alex Keyzer.

A loss that left the entire community in shock and dismay.

With losses that just seemed to stack one after another, in-person school seemed like an opportunity for some light at the end of a dark tunnel for others. Or even a continued dark cloud to some. 

Alongside students struggling with physical, emotional, financial and academic losses, teachers and faculty from varying public schools around Jefferson County share their experiences and reactions with the in-person return as thousands of students are back into the classroom. 

“The return into the building makes my heart swell. Especially to see squirms and smiles through squinted eyes. I am happy to see that my kids is just as happy as I am,” said Tammy Ronau, a teacher at Goldsmith Elementary School.

In addition to the excitement of the year, others shared some of the anxiety that accompanies the in-person return.

“The art of small talk has truly slipped my brain. Seeing the actual faces attached with varying bodies and styles seems almost out of this world. Every time I see my students it’s like the angst and shock of meeting someone new. Like ‘oh another human,'” Jacqueline Scoones (English) said.

The flexibility of scheduling and rapid changes requires teachers to be consistent and pliable with their time and the content they teach for the success of all their students.

“I am just happy to see more faces rather than circles in person. The balance of online and in-person has its hiccups but, we’re all moving with the tide,” Tim Holman (Social Studies) said. 

The adjustment into physical school building brings back memories of what used to be.

Old posters, signs, rooms or even aromas have either disappeared or seen renovation since last April.

Laughs and conversations muffled by masks, lunches with friends limited by distance, and travel even restricted to bell systems and staircases, have become the new normal for in-person school.

A normal that would’ve sounded absurd a year ago.

“The thing I miss most is seeing that light bulb go off. The thinking eyes and the full body fidget to answer questions feels like a dream. Now it’s silent stares and crickets. I miss telling the class to quiet down and settle. At least I knew my students were excited about something,” said Carol Buckingham, a teacher at Pleasure Ridge Park High School.

“I miss being able to hug my students or being able to play freely. I just they were free to be children,” Ronau said. 

“I miss the loud hallways and the student chatter after lunch. I miss how open and loud it used to be. Open and loud means the wheels are turning and creativity is happening,” Scoones said.

With all the trials and tribulations of the previous year and the continuous alteration of the school year, faculty are hopeful for the coming years of in-person school.

“I’m sure it’ll take some getting used to but, we’ll be running like a well-oiled machine soon. This is still new but, I hope [the students] don’t let this break them. They are survivors. We just got to take this one step at a  time,” Ed Burton (Security) said. 

“It’ll take some time but, I’m hopeful this will be smoother when we get all the answers. Answers make us all feel safer and that’s what I hope we gain,” Holman said. 

“I hope that after this year, my students will feel like they can trust the schools. If we trust each other, we can make this normal something we can tolerate,” Buckingham said.

This school year has been one of hopes, downs and sacrifices that many of us couldn’t imagine back in March. As students, parents and staff, we hope to find community and solidarity in the state of this new normalcy.

As best put by Mr. Burton, “we must take this one step at a time.”