Parents, students in districts 47, 300 happy, hopeful with return to hybrid learning
Many parents and students in both Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 and Algonquin-based Community Community Unit District 300 rejoiced Monday as classrooms again filled, with social distancing in place, for the first time in months.
Each school system resumed its version of hybrid learning schedules, with some in-person coursework and some online, after trying similar models in the fall after COVID-19 case metrics in the area soared, forcing them into remote learning.
In District 300, which rolled hybrid out Monday for all grade levels, about 65% of its 19,492 students opted into in-person learning, with 12,770 choosing to participate in the hybrid model and 6,722 staying fully remote, district spokesman Anthony McGinn said.
"My daughter was just telling me about how she was able to have lunch with her three best friends for the first time since March," said Kristina Konstanty, a parent of two District 300 students at Gilberts Elementary School. "There is no amount of remote learning that can make up for that. They have to be spaced out, they can't hug, but you know what, this is 10 times better than what they've been going through since March."
She said she is hopeful the district will stay in hybrid learning this time and not have to move back into learning from home, but she is prepared to move her kids into private school if that does happen.
"As much as I am happy the district is making steps forward to get us back into the building, I believe we aren't really opened until we're fully opened," said Brett Corrigan, a sophomore at Jacobs High School in Algonquin who started the Rally to Reopen movement in the fall that called for District 300 to bring students back to classrooms.
"I really hope that it could come this spring," Corrigan said of a move into full in-person instruction. "A year of this has really been detrimental and just saddening for a lot of students. Every single one of my friends I've spoken to is different. Everyone has changed. It's sad to see everyone suffering. They're all depressed. There are a lot of happy things too, but I can tell things have just changed."
Crystal Lake's District 47 is taking a staggered approach to bringing students into hybrid learning programs. It began this week with hosting 1,423 students from prekindergarten to second grade as well as special education students of all ages. Students in third through fifth grades are set to start hybrid schedules Jan. 25, and middle school students are on track to come back to school Feb. 8.
As of Monday, 4,246 students across all District 47 grade levels had indicated they will participate in the hybrid program and 2,777 are set to remain in remote, district spokeswoman Denise Barr said.
Aubrey Cox, a second-grader at Woods Creek Elementary in Crystal Lake, said she was "sad that we don't get to hug anymore" because of social distancing practices. But she said she was still "pretty happy" to see her friends in real life.
"I like that I still get to do math and get to do all the fun things we get to do (such as) making arts and crafts," Aubrey said.
Nathan Schoepp, another second-grader at Woods Creek, also noted there were positives about the hybrid learning plans despite the restrictions in schools.
"I am a little bit excited that we're back. What I liked about Zoom is that we don't have to wear masks. But now we get to see our friends and it's not on camera," he said.
Union chapters representing District 300 and District 47 teachers are optimistic about the move to hybrid learning, a contrast from the Chicago Teachers Union, which is insisting that it's not yet safe for the state's largest school district's plans to have students back in class right now for hybrid learning.
Local Education Association of District 300 President Mike Williamson said the union still is worried, however, over COVID-19 metrics in the school system's communities.
"We are optimistic about the district's return to in-person learning, and are excited to see our students in our classrooms. However, we'd also like to stress that we remain concerned about the growing COVID-19 positivity rates," Williamson said through an Illinois Education Association spokeswoman in a statement. "We will be vigilant about monitoring the district's safety plan to make sure that all stakeholders are following the safety protocols, so that we can continue to keep our students, staff and community safe."
Crystal Lake Elementary Teachers Association President Nancy Boro said in a statement that her union appreciates the "gradual phase in the district is taking."
District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid spent Monday visiting schools and said he was impressed with the interactions he saw among students and teachers that adhered to proper safety protocols to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
"There is a real sense of joy and excitement in our classrooms today. Students arrived on campus fully energized and ready to learn," Heid said in a statement through the district spokesman.
"Our teachers' unwavering dedication to their students is on full display today as they deliver lessons with great care and adaptability to address logistical complexities caused by the pandemic," he added. "I am truly grateful to our entire staff for their commitment to providing a safe and supportive learning environment and I could not be happier to see our students back in our buildings."