How Safe Do Radnor Students Feel in School?

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https://sites.google.com/rtsd.org/reopeningradnor/learning-phases/instructional-program-options/secondary-phase-1-full-in-person?authuser=0

Ellie Davis

As of March 22nd, all Radnor High School Students who opted-in to the Phase-One model have been attending in-person school every day. After months of only seeing half of their classmates, coming to school with nearly the whole student body was a shock for many. Hallways are more crowded, the lunch is twice its past size, and desks are now only four feet apart. Students and teachers are adjusting to yet another version of normal. 

When the school district first surveyed Radnor High School families, approximately 77% enrolled in the fully in-person program. Seniors were brought back in person first, on March 15th, shortly followed by freshmen, sophomores, and juniors on March 22nd. In an interview, sophomore Eleanor Adams reported that “When it became fully in person it was really kind of overwhelming.”

Jesse Conen, a senior, was confident entering the building with all his classmates for the first time, saying “ Obviously, the health concerns weigh a little bit in your mind, but if the school administration and the health officials are telling you it’s safe to come back, I trust that.”

Though overwhelming at times, the students report having a more positive and engaging learning experience with full-time in-person learning. “It’s helped my mental health a lot,” said Hanna, “being able to see a lot more people, it definitely keeps me happier than just being behind a screen.” For the first time, students can see friends with last names a-z, instead of just their fellow cohort. Junior Ryan Fox added that “I’m definitely happy that I chose to go in person because as opposed to being at home you get to see your friends and talk to them and socialize.”  

“When there aren’t as many distractions with a phone on zoom,” said Jesse, “the learning was significantly easier.” Especially while looking at their classmates on zoom still stuck at home, students are happy to be in person.  “I don’t know what’d I’d be doing if I was still virtual,” said Eleanor, “there’s one person I know who stayed virtual and it seems absolutely miserable. It seems so isolated.” 

Izzy Lo, a Junior who opted to stay virtual, can understand feeling isolated. “When hybrid was a thing we had the whole class split,” she explained, “so there were both groups to pay attention to. The virtual kids seemed to be paid attention to a lot.” However, after transitioning to full in-person learning, there are typically only five or six online kids in each of Izzy’s classes, and “it’s hard for us to feel equal with the people in the class.” 

Music class, such an audio-dependent form of learning, has been particularly frustrating for students on zoom. “The music department, when everyone went back in person,” Izzy reported, “stopped paying attention to the online kids a lot. That is definitely something that is just because of how you hear and perform music. If we are playing online music and the rest of the class is playing where they can be heard and be seen by the teacher then obviously they will get more paid attention to.” Izzy is hopeful that this final step of precaution will be short-lived, and she will soon be able to join her fellow classmates in the band room. 

The district website describes the all-in-person learning model, saying that teaching “will center on the engagement of in-person students, while also providing ample opportunities for fully virtual students to fully participate in lectures, class discussions, small group work with peers, and individual conferences with teachers.

For the most part, students in person feel comfortable and safe in the classroom. “You’re definitely a lot closer to everyone in your class,” said Ryan, “but it didn’t feel any less safe to me at least being in the classroom and learning.”Although Hanna “definitely felt a lot safer in the hybrid model,” she said that “so far the in-person model has been handled pretty well from what I can tell.” 

Lunch, rather than in-person learning, is when students feel most vulnerable. “When you’re inside, even if your six feet or three feet apart, you’re still turning around, talking to people,” said Ryan, “with your masks off, I feel like you could spread really easily through the lunchrooms.” Eleanor also raised concerns about the hallways during passing time, saying that they get “really crazy” with crowds, and that “the staircase thing,” in reference to each staircase’s “up” or “down” designation “already went out the window.”

Students have also largely abandoned the practice of using the desks mats that could be seen everywhere in classrooms at the beginning of the year. “I noticed a lot of people haven’t been using the desk mats anymore,” said Hanna. “I personally still use mine. That kind of scares me a little bit that people have stopped using them.” Ryan added, “I haven’t seen one person with a desk mat in a long time.” 

“It’s kind of confusing because [the administration] never said that they weren’t supposed to be used anymore,” said Eleanor, “But one day everyone showed up and no one had them.” According to Mrs. Kevgas, the desk mat policy is still in place and students are expected to use them. 

One policy that students have for the most part upheld is mask-wearing. “Mask wearing is nothing short of impressive,” Jesse said. “There are a few cases where people will be wearing their masks under their noses or not even at all,” said Hanna, but “for the most part people are pretty good about [mask wearing].”

Students are used to wearing masks at this point, but full in person has brought a new covid percussion: contact tracing. For those of us in person, many of us have observed our classmates be called down over the phone to the wrestling room to be sent home after finding out that a student assigned to sit within six feet of us test positive for COVID. “In the beginning, no one really knew what was going on,” said Eleanor, “you’d just hear on the loudspeaker ‘so and so come down to the wrestling room’ and then we figured out what that meant. I think that’s definitely a big fear for me.”

Ryan described his experience being contact traced: “I was about to go in for an APUSH test. I was confused because I had no clue what it was.” The students were instructed that they would have to quarantine, and on day five they could get tested, and only on day seven, with no symptom onset, could they return to their normal activities. “Mrs. Kevgas told us that we have to make up all tests after break because we can’t take them virtually,” said Ryan.   

Ryan does crew and he shared how “I missed practice all those days and I had to stay home and leave my team struggling to find people to put in boats.” Ryan expressed his concern for the future with the current model, saying “If they are sending a ton of kids each week to stay home for seven days and stay virtual, it’s not gonna work out in the long run, I think.”

The school website’s COVID dashboard states that during the week of March 20th-26th (the week before spring break), 4 Radnor High School students tested positive. According to Mrs. Kevgas, within two days, a total of 59 students were contact traced and sent home. Who must be sent home depends chiefly on students’ proximity to the students who tested positive in class. With the knowledge that they might be called down and sent home, going to school full time has been a troubling adjustment for some students. 

“I’m glad that they are doing contact tracing, and of course I’m scared to be called down to the wrestling room,” said Hanna, while noting that if she were to be sent home, she would take comfort in knowing that “at least the school is keeping others safe.”

Though the shift to in-person learning felt overwhelming, many students will return from break refreshed with this step towards normalcy. As Jesse said, “I’m very appreciative that some normalcy is coming back, and it’s thanks to the hard work of the administration, students, and teachers.”