In response to varying demographics and school infrastructure, Belmont Hill and Winsor have adapted their traditional school structures differently to accommodate state guidelines regarding COVID-19. While Belmont Hill has employed a “fully in-person” system, where all students come to school on every day of the week except Wednesdays, Winsor has decided to function through a hybrid model, where students are two days in-person, and three days at home. No classes take place on Wednesday; it is a day for asynchronous learning, with an assembly in the morning. Accordingly, both schools have amended their schedule both in school and virtually to both provide the optimal experience and maintain proper protocols.
With Winsor’s new hybrid schedule, the school days start at 8:40, thirty-five minutes later than last year. Additionally, students do not have access to lockers, so they are expected to carry around their backpacks, coats, as well as other sports equipment or bags they find necessary. There are twenty minutes of passing time between each one hour class, where students are able to go outside to take a mask break.
While the majority of the Winsor students and faculty are able to be on campus, some teachers and students have elected to be all virtual. Mrs. Skeele, a veteran Winsor English teacher and advisor, is fully remote. She said that her high risk for contracting the virus led to the decision to be a fully remote teacher, but misses being at Winsor and seeing her students. She also expressed her admiration for the work that the Winsor faculty has done: “Winsor has done a great job with easy communication between students and teachers.” Mrs. Skeele also mentioned the opportunities and advantages of online teaching. As a fully remote teacher, she no longer has to begin her days at 5:30 in the morning to commute to school. Also, conducting conferences and meeting students one-on-one is now easier than ever with Zoom. Remote teaching has its advantages and disadvantages, but overall Mrs. Skeele is very pleased and impressed with how Winsor is dealing with the situation.
Comparing Winsor’s completely virtual experience last year to the hybrid schedule this year, it seems that many students prefer spending half of their weeks on campus. Ashley Xu, a 10th grader at Winsor says that she prefers the hybrid schedule because “it gives students more free time, it saves time for students who live far away, and more time for commuting. The hybrid schedule has more free time to do extracurricular activities.” Jeremiah Hickman-Maynard, another sophomore says “the hybrid model has more space for a more predictable schedule, you are never really in any confusion as to which day it is or which class you have. It is a more reliable schedule, and there is more time to do stuff.” Students enjoy their ability to participate in sports and hang out with friends during the school day. However, from listening to the feedback from our classmates, the majority feel that the twenty-minute passing time in between classes is too long. They would much rather cut the passing time down in order to be able to leave school earlier. Students are also concerned with the amount of work assigned during crunch weeks: weeks when the Wednesday schedule is cut out. Another difficulty with hybrid learning is remote learning. Although most students like the hybrid schedule, some fear that “when we go back to all-in person we might get overwhelmed with how much less free time we have,” as Ashley Xu ’23 says. However, given the COVID-19 protocols, the Winsor students are thankful for everything Winsor has done, and are eager to see the changes that come next.
Belmont Hill has implemented many new changes in order to accommodate the new COVID guidelines. In the new schedule, students spend four days on campus with three classes per day, and attend all five of their classes remotely on Wednesdays. Like Winsor, the start of the day has been pushed back to 8:30, and the day ends around 2. For all four in-person days, classes are 75 minutes long, as was typical in the long block schedule before. Another major modification has been that in this new schedule, every in-person day has a 35-minute advisory period before lunch.
The overall feedback from Belmont Hill students with regards to this year’s schedule has been overwhelmingly positive. As Mr. Grant, assistant head of Belmont Hill, stated with regards to a survey conducted earlier in the fall, “the most striking thing was how much you all enjoyed being together and being in person.” Especially compared to the virtual experience last spring, in-person learning has been refreshing and uplifting to the student body, providing individuals with an environment in which they can interact with friends, teachers, and coaches in a way that is as close to normal as possible. Mr. Grant noted that the ability to talk in-person with teachers and exercise through athletics has contributed to high student morale. The only downsides to the modified structure for students and faculty have been the lack of normal extra help time and the necessity to maintain social distancing: “Everyone misses that free X block [Belmont Hill’s allotted time for extra help and completing work]. Another frustrating thing has been the physical set-up of the classrooms [in which everyone has to be 6 feet apart], as so much of our teaching has moved towards more group work.”
Despite these downsides of having to follow state guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the student body has been immensely grateful for the opportunity to remain in person. The faculty have similarly appreciated the in-person model of learning, yet Mr. Grant emphasized the immense effort and adaptations that teachers have had to make in order to allow this experience to stay possible: “no faculty member has a syllabus that fits this moment… teachers have to reinvent themselves entirely each and every week based on what’s coming.” The student body greatly values all the effort that the faculty and staff have given to allow this experience to remain possible. As Mr. Grant noted, the upcoming Thanksgiving break is crucial to provide a break for the Administrative Team to prepare for any challenges that the upcoming winter season might bring.
As for the future, Belmont Hill is constantly looking to create modifications to the schedule that will allow teachers to create more extra help opportunities. However, this task has been hard to accomplish because, like Mr. Grant said, “we are trying to stay within the [Covid] guidelines.” Regardless, Belmont Hill students have generally appreciated the changes made to the school schedule so far and would certainly appreciate any future improvements to the current structure.