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Portage high schoolers react to possible plans to bring more students back to class

According to the Portage Community School District Administrator, conversations have started on the possibility of bringing sixth through twelfth graders back to the classroom for four days a week.
Published: Feb. 28, 2021 at 10:15 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2021 at 7:31 PM CST
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PORTAGE, Wis. (WMTV) - Students at Portage High School have been learning in a cohort system – some students learn in-person Mondays and Tuesdays and learn at home for the rest of the week, some students learn in-person on Thursdays and Fridays and learn at home for the beginning of the week, and others are learning entirely online. Now, the possibility of bringing some students back into the classroom for four days a week could switch up those schedules.

In an email, Portage Community School District administrator Josh Sween said they are beginning conversations about this potential plan. The email read in part, “We have started the conversations in regard to what it would look like if we were going to be able to take the next step and bring our 6-12 grade students back to school 4 days a week before the end of the school year.”

Sween said there is no date for this yet, but “with the case rates continuing to trend downward and the success we have had this year we are preparing for this possibility.” He added that there would still be a fully virtual option for students and families.

For Portage High School English teacher Nicole Giessel, the possibility of this plan is exciting.

“I would be very excited about having everybody back,” Giessel said. “I teach because I like working with students in person.”

Giessel said from an academic perspective, she thinks the best option would be to bring students back into the classroom sooner rather than later. At the same time, she recognizes that this plan would be another change in an already unusual school year.

“This will be another bigger change that we’re adjusting to, that students are adjusting to, that requires a lot of communication within the community,” she said. “But I think it is a positive adjustment that I welcome.”

The potential timing of the possible plan is a concern to senior Grace Rabl.

“I like the idea, but I would personally prefer it happen in the fall rather than fourth quarter or sometime in the second semester because it breaks up the consistency of what we have going right now, and it’s working fairly well for me and I like things to be consistent, I do better that way,” Rabl said. “But i definitely know that it would help quite a few of my peers to be back for four days.”

Rabl said at this point in the school year, she feels like she has adapted to learning in person for two days and at home for three, and said she values the flexibility virtual days provide her. However, a perk of being in school for four days would be seeing her friends.

Fellow junior Brynna Malone was learning in person, but switched to learning entirely online from home. She said the idea of learning four days in person would make it “worth it” to go back to school in person.

“Then I will get to see all my classmates and also there will be better instruction time because four days compared to two, that’s double the time with your teachers and double the class time which would be really helpful compared to two days.”

Malone said the return to more days in person could have benefits beyond academics.

“I feel like if the focus was more on mental health during that time, I think that it would really be helpful because a lot of people my age are definitely having some problems with that,” she said.

Bringing students back to class for four days a week could also potentially mean challenges and changes to social distancing measures. In his email, Sween said, “Another consideration is that we would not be able to maintain our distancing to the levels we do right now. We are looking at other schools who have been able to have their students in school 4/5 days a week and learning what they have been doing.”

“In so much as possible, kids have been six feet apart,” Giessel said. “That I think will be the only thing that would be the major change, they may not be a guaranteed six feet apart. That’s a risk anywhere you’re going. Students and families would have to understand that, teachers would have to understand that.”

Giessel said that even if students were closer than six feet apart, masks, hand sanitizing, wiping down desks, and current safety measures will still be in place.

Sween also wrote that the district believes there may be risk of COVID next school year, and they’re working to get an “idea of what a more normal school year looks like with our safety protocols in place.” Another factor Sween mentioned in these decisions was when staff can be vaccinated.

Regardless of whether or not this plan is enacted, Rabl aims to give the rest of the school year her all.

“We’ve got to push through and finish strong. That’s something that most of my peers who are athletes hear all the time from our coaches,” she said. “If you get tired towards the end of the game, it’s going to be better if you try to push through and finish strong.”

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