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  • Matthew Tsui

Remote or Hybrid?

As we approach the fall, much of the Northern Hemisphere has begun their back-to-school seasons. Accurate to this year’s trend, the coronavirus pandemic will drastically change this exciting season as we know it. As we realized that serious restrictions could not be avoided if we wished to prevent an outright disaster, under the guidance of the CDC, the US government imposed a social distancing mandate, which forced the closing of schools, workplaces, and public spaces. While many couldn't even fathom the idea of a localized virus outbreak growing to a point where daily life would have to be stopped, the lasting impact that pandemic would have on our lives soon became ever so apparent as the cases continued to climb even as we isolated ourselves at home. In addition to the normal preparations for the school reopenings, the pandemic has only added extra anxiety to the plate of educators, public health and government officials, and parents. In fact, in New York, some of the educators have simply chosen to retire early and avoid this extra stress, with the principals of NYC crown jewel high schools Bronx Science and Stuyvesant leaving their posts.[1] The obvious primary priority of the school systems is to lower viral transmission rates and ensure the safety and protection of the health of the students and staff. Thus, in order to balance the need to reduce the spread of coronavirus with aiming to give the students the optimal learning experience, schools have developed remote, hybrid, and full-in person models.

With 600 schools reporting corona cases by August 17th, it soon became clear that stopping the spread of the virus would be a difficult task. It certainly didn’t help that as certain schools. like North Paulding High School, had virtually no preventative measures, they were soon forced to shutter their doors.[2] As there is currently no solid criteria for determining whether a school should use a remote, hybrid, or fully in-person model, over three-quarters of the 50 biggest school districts simply decided to go full remote for the beginning of the school year. In New York, even after Governor Cuomo pushed back the reopening date three weeks to cooperate with the teacher unions, the classrooms were strikingly empty as even parents themselves grew wary of the possibility of their children contracting the virus over weak coronavirus measures taken by their schools. Eventually, most of the schools in the northeast have proceeded with the hybrid model while allowing parents to choose whether or not they wanted to be fully remote in hopes of still providing the students with the opportunity to receive a nice learning experience.

In the hybrid model, the amount of physical space within the classroom is of utmost consideration as the six-foot distance between students must be maintained. Thus, the carrying capacity of each classroom is extremely limited, so in physically smaller schooler the question of who should be prioritized is posed. While children in affluent neighborhoods may be equipped with the tools to successfully operate in remote environments, even having access to tutors when the risk of falling behind is posed, those with learning disabilities, economic disadvantages, and unstable homes aren’t so lucky. Thus, it is increasingly urgent for these students to get back into the classroom, while other students may not fall nearly as far behind in the remote setup. Another factor that is being considered for the urgency of returning to in-person teaching is the age of the students. While high schoolers and middle schoolers may be able to ease into the transition of remote learning, effectively creating a workspace that mimics the productive environment of the school, the elementary schoolers need the guidance that comes with school. Furthermore, it is key that they get the social interaction that is essential for the development of their brains, as a lack of social interaction at that young age has been linked to damage to the reward circuity of the brain. Specifically, researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found that juveniles are most vulnerable to this damage, as isolation reduced the excitability of the prefrontal neurons and increased inhibitory input from related neurons.[3]

Social Isolation on Prefrontal Cortex

Finally, closing elementary schools is most devastating to working mothers. The pandemic resultant unpaid care probably was a major cause of the rising rates of unemployment among mothers. Not only does this cut off half of the income of working-class families which may be extremely hurtful especially too families of the lower socioeconomic classes, but its societal consequences may also be profound; the exclusion of mothers from the economy may slow the very economic recovery that we’re all desperately waiting for. Thus, in the hybrid model where physical space is limited, the question of which groups should be prioritized is very present.

The question of whether the remote or hybrid model is more effective for learning really depends on the student. Some students adapt easier to the remote model, while others need the guidance and structure provided by the hybrid model. At my school, we have the option to choose which model we would like to follow. Out of precaution, I chose the remote model, and I’m proud to say that our school has done a fairly decent job in maintaining a high level of education that we’re known for. However, at other school districts, even the NYS public schools, huge mega zooms with 40+ students make it almost impossible for an engaging lesson.[4] One of the key factors for ensuring that no one is left behind is the synchronous live classes, along with the numerous extra help sessions scheduled after school. While I’d certainly wish to simply sleep in and deal with the work at a nicer hour, ensuring that we’re following the general school day provides a nice schedule in our lives. Furthermore, when we were in asynchronous teaching back in the spring, it was all too easy to just slack off as even the entire fourth quarter grade literally couldn’t hurt your grade point average. One of the most important factors in determining whether or not you’ll be successful in remote learning is mimicking the peaceful environment of the school. Clearing away all distractions and making it clear to your parents and siblings that you are in fact in school certainly helps. While this certainly doesn’t work in all cases, sometimes even turning on some background music helps to drown out distractions. Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with remote learning, although its made interacting with peers and teachers far harder.

The other option, the hybrid model, tries to maintain a nice balance between lowering viral transmission rates and giving students the most effective learning experience. Obviously, nothing beats being physically in school in getting adequate social interaction with peers key to mental health, and for being forced to pay utmost attention in school. You end up enjoying school days for the social interaction and supreme learning experience, and the remote days for the nice relaxing break from an otherwise stressful week. Furthermore, it is far easier to ask questions in physical class than interrupting your teacher over a zoom call. However, the hybrid model doesn’t completely knock away all of the viral transmission, made clear by all of the microclusters that have begun to reappear. Thus, educators will still be working on improving the education system and will certainly have to adapt as cases in the United States continue to climb.



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