By: Eve Nevelos, Editorial Staff ‘24

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has greatly affected most of the world, school districts turned to virtual learning in mid-March, and recently started a hybrid learning system in September. In the Ramapo-Indian Hills school district, the hybrid learning schedule consists of two cohorts, excluding students who choose not to attend in-person school at all, who switch in and out of school every two days. While in the school building, students must wear masks at all times and abide by the social distancing rules required by the CDC. Plastic dividers have been set up on the desks, amongst other efforts, to slow the spread of disease.

Yerim Park, a current full-time virtual freshman student at Indian Hills, says, “It sucks big time… But, better safe than sorry.” Unfortunately, Yerim’s account rings true for many students.

While in-person schooling provides students with the opportunity to meet their peers face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) and gives freshmen a chance to get a feel for the school environment and experience a more “normal” school day, virtual learning is safer, generally less stressful, and allows students and teachers to see one another’s unmasked faces over zoom. Virtual learning does create a larger gap between students and teachers. Students are having trouble effectively communicating with their teachers, something that hurts both sides of the relationship. Emails and zoom calls don’t replace an in-classroom one-on-one. Virtual learning can also make students feel more isolated and separated from the Indian Hills High School community. Virtual events and clubs taking place on zoom throughout the school year are hoping to aid that cause. Despite the great efforts made by the school district, a growing number of students are opting to go fully virtual as the third coronavirus wave spreads through the country. Taking the small risk of catching the virus and taking it home to family members is a concern shared amongst numerous students. 

Sydney Chiang, a full-time virtual junior, had a different point of view on virtual learning. “Personally, I actually really like virtual learning. It’s easier for me to go at my own pace and if I’m being honest, I feel like I pay attention easier. In person, I sometimes get distracted by other people in class or things happening outside, but now I can just put myself at my desk and not worry about others.”

Being at home eliminates distracting factors, like disruptive behavior from other students, noisy hallways, and PE classes outside the window. However, being at home can sometimes be equally as turbulent as the school building is. Learning at home creates a discrepancy between students’ learning experiences. While some students are able to situate themselves in a corner away from the noise and visual distractions, other students are forced into the center of a busy kitchen, interrupted by younger siblings and dishes clattering. Unfortunately, not much can be done to change this and level the playing field, a notable downside to virtual learning. 

The hybrid schedule has its own strengths and weaknesses. Sabrina Adams, a freshman hybrid student, said, “I believe that hybrid learning is better than [being] completely virtual, but there are certainly flaws in this new system. The teachers are having a hard time juggling the virtual students with the students that are live, and it’s difficult to teach both groups at the same time (I don’t blame them!).”

Teaching two different ways can slow classes down and result in some challenges with getting the main ideas of a lesson across. Sabrina went on to say, “We’re […] stuck on screens all day, which is frustrating. Maybe we could have some say where the virtual group didn’t have zoom meetings so the teachers could focus on having regular school with the in-person cohort.”

Sabrina emphasizes the point that both students and staff have been reinforcing: screen time has gone up dramatically. Often, students are on their laptops between 7:30 am and 5:30 pm — sometimes longer — in zoom classes and completing homework assignments. Even the extra ninety-minute lunch break doesn’t help students that are at home get a screen recess because of an excessive amount of homework due to the new shortened 30-minute class periods. There’s no getting around it, this is an issue with no simple solution. 

Despite great adversity, the school community has come together in a way never seen before. In a recent Schoology post, Dr. Vacca, principal, affirmed, “I am heartened by the resilience and strength of our spirit. We cannot control the outside factors that are making this school year so difficult, but we can work together to control how we respond to it. You have my thanks and gratitude for the effort you are all putting in to be Brave and to keep our school spirit alive.”

Here at Indian Hills, every student, faculty member, and parent is in this together. There is no denying how challenging this school year has been so far, but this community has come together in unprecedented ways.