Portage High schoolers reflect on learning during a pandemic, newfound sense of community

After a year of schedule changes and juggling in-person and virtual learning, a teacher and her students look back on the lessons learned both in and out of the classroom this school year
Published: Jun. 8, 2021 at 6:30 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 7:04 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PORTAGE, Wis. (WMTV) - For English teacher Nicole Giessel and two of her students, the word that comes to mind at the end of this school year is “relief.”

Students Brynna Malone and Grace Rabl, both juniors at Portage High School, have navigated a year unlike any other, complete with juggling both in-person and online learning, a new cohort system, and a schedule change.

“It’s been a year of a lot of challenges and a lot of changes which came with their struggles and their difficulties, but now I think we’re all in a good place and wrapping up nicely,” said Giessel during one of the final days of classes.

Giessel has been teaching for over a decade, and this school year, she mostly taught juniors. Even with all of her years of experience, she said prepping for different groups of students with various pre-recorded videos and posted lesson plans was a challenge.

“Having students in-person and student learning virtually two days a week, and having students learn entirely virtually, everybody’s kind of on a different schedule, home lives are all different,” Giessel said. " “I think making the learning opportunities be the best that they can be for all the different groups of students regardless of where they are or when they’re doing it, that was a challenge,” she said.

At the start of the school year, students were split into two cohorts. One group learned in-person for the first two days of the week and online the last three, and the second cohort started their week online, and finished the week in-person. There was also a group that learned entirely online. Toward the end of the school year, students managed a new schedule which brought them back to the classroom for four days a week.

Malone experienced all of these changes, starting out in-person, switching to entirely virtual learning, then finishing the year out in the classroom. Despite the adjustments and challenges, Malone said the pandemic taught her a valuable lesson.

“I feel like it taught us how to manage time and how to decide which work you should prioritize,” Malone said. “It makes you really appreciate everything that we had before.”

“We get that epiphany I guess at young age to actually engage in things and try to do things, instead of realizing at 60 that, ‘oh, I should have bene doing things all along.’ I’m grateful in some way,” Malone said.

Classmate Rabl also learned things about herself over the last months.

“I definitely appreciate that I learned a lot of self-reliance and stuff like that this past year,” Rabl said.

It wasn’t just the students who learned this year. Giessel said she came to value the power of collaboration between students as a teaching tool even more than she did before.

“A lot of us have discovered there are different ways to do things that we maybe wouldn’t have realized before, different ways to reach students or to get them to engage,” she said.

Despite the physical distancing and mask wearing, and less face to face time in the classroom, Giessel and her students felt a stronger sense of community was forged this year. Giessel said there’s a greater understanding now between students and teachers, all of whom worked together to get through the year.

“There’s a general sense of accomplishment, again, we did this,” Giessel said. “No one else has taught and learned through a pandemic with so much uncertainty. We did it, we’ve learned from it, we’re better because of it.”

Outside the parameters of high school friend groups that would shape social circles during a normal school year, new friendships have thrived.

“It’s been really great to form more bonds with my teachers and also my classmates,” said Rabl. “There’s been a lot of people who I was just general acquaintances with before this year, but then especially with the cohort thing, we’ve bonded a lot.”

Despite the barriers, the Portage High School warriors banded together to make it to the finish line.

“This was an entire building effort, an entire district effort, your parents were involved maybe more than ever before because you were home three days a week,” Giessel said. “Kind of oxymoronically physically distant and even socially distant sometimes, yet, a little more community than maybe we had expected.”

Copyright 2021 WMTV. All rights reserved.