Portage High School implements schedule change, doubles time for in-person learning

The high school is no longer implementing its cohort plan, instead bringing in-person learners back to the classroom for four days a week
Published: Apr. 26, 2021 at 10:25 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2021 at 10:32 PM CDT
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PORTAGE, Wis. (WMTV) - On April 12, Portage High School began a new schedule, bringing their in-person students back to the classroom for four days a week.

Previously, the school had been using a cohort system, with in-person learners split between two groups. The first cohort would learn in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the second would learn in-person on Thursdays and Fridays. Now, students who opt to learn in-person are back in class for four days a week, with Wednesday remaining a virtual day. Students still have the option of learning entirely virtually.

Junior Grace Rabl has been learning in-person, and is now in school four days a week with the schedule change. Rabl is adjusting to spending double the amount of time in the building.

“It’s been a little stressful, it’s very weird seeing more classmates,” she said. “I had a very small elementary school, so I got used to having a lot less people here and now it feels overwhelming a little bit sometimes to have so many kids back. But it’s nice that I get to see friends that I hadn’t before.”

According to Portage Community School District, as of April 12, 563 students are learning in-person four days a week, and 142 students are learning completely virtually. Under the previous cohort schedule, 143 students learned entirely virtually, and there were 283 students in cohort A, and 284 in cohort B.

With the new schedule, junior Grace Rabl went from learning in-person two days a week to four...
With the new schedule, junior Grace Rabl went from learning in-person two days a week to four days a week at Portage High School.(NBC15)

Rabl said she’s seen some students who were learning online return to in-person learning with the schedule change, while some students who were previously learning in-person have switched to learning entirely virtually.

“This change has prompted a number of my friends to go virtual,” she said. “It goes both ways.”

English teacher Nicole Giessel has also seen some students change their learning environment with the new schedule.

“There’s been some discomfort, some students have chosen to go virtual because of that, and other students have chosen to come back now that there’s four days, get in more of a routine, have some structure in their day, and have more teacher time,” Giessel said. “So it’s been a pretty even swap out.”

Giessel said the school is still practicing safety measures like wearing masks, wiping desks, and using hand sanitizer. With more students in the building at a time, she said social distancing looks a bit different.

“Now with larger classes, we can’t guarantee six [feet],” Giessel said. “We try as much as possible, but in most cases it ends up being about three [feet].”

“Our teachers are still definitely enforcing social distancing and such and we sanitize our desks and everything as we come into class,” Rabl said.

Rabl said with two days of in-person learning, she was able to work more at her own pace. Now, she said she works at the pace of the class as a whole, which can mean more homework if class time runs out. On the cohort schedule, Rabl said she was largely able to avoid doing homework after normal school hours.

“It seems that we’re moving for the most part in my classes at a bit faster of a pace than we had been, but it just feels a lot more overwhelming to have to come four days a week than two,” she said. “It feels like you have to put in double the effort, even if it’s a similar amount of workload it just seems like you have to do more.”

English teacher Nicole Giessel said having students in class more has increased their engagement.
English teacher Nicole Giessel said having students in class more has increased their engagement.(NBC15)

For Giessel, teaching students face to face allows opportunities to monitor student engagement and understanding more closely. She also said the in-person days allow more time for activities and interaction.

“In terms of teaching and knowing that students are learning and students being able to work through some challenges and to hear some other students discuss stuff, you can’t replace that in any sort of virtual classroom,” she said.

With only about a month of school left, Giessel understands how students have faced a variety of obstacles this school year.

“Students have been frustrated with a lot of challenges that have come their way in the last year. Totally unexpected, totally unplanned, and they’ve done a lot of rolling with the punches, and they’ve done a great job with that,” she said. “By this point now, they had had a plan, they had had a schedule, they were good with it. While they’re happy to be back, while they know that it’s good for them academically and socially, there is a little bit of that, ‘I had my life together, I was doing just fine.’ But again, this is normal, this is what they have done for their entire school careers.”

Junior Brynna Malone has finally found a routine that works for her this school year. Malone has been learning virtually from home. She said she does not currently have plans to return to in-person learning this year.

“I decided not to go back to school yet just because I feel like how I am doing my school work right now has started to work for me, and I’ve kind of gotten used to it and used to how to deal with it myself. I feel like they changed it right at the moment when everyone got used to it, so I feel like now it would be hard for me to go back again just because I’m so used to it,” Malone said.

Junior Brynna Malone has decided to continue learning from home, saying she's found a routine...
Junior Brynna Malone has decided to continue learning from home, saying she's found a routine that works for her.(NBC15)

Since she started learning virtually, Malone has started a job.

“I feel like I would have a hard time managing my time again because then there’s seven hours at school and then you get home, and then I’d have to go to work and then do school work, and I feel like it would be difficult to relearn that schedule all over again,” Malone said.

Malone also said she’s noticed a shift in her own attitude about school while learning from home.

“You get a lot out of being in a classroom, that’s definitely true. But I think that I’ve also realized that I can also get a lot out of staying home,” Malone said. “It’s just deciding which is better for each person. And personally I think that it’s better for me to stay home. I feel a lot healthier, a lot more willing to do homework even though I’m not at school. So I think that my attitude has really changed during this entire time.”

Back at school, Rabl is getting used to four days in-person, working towards the end of the school year.

“It’s really weird to think about having a full schedule again, and it is intimidating a little bit, but trying to take it day by day helps.”

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