For the past year, Pentucket students have lost almost all sense of structure and purpose in their educational careers as they have been forced to learn from home and through hybrid measures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been extremely difficult for students and teachers to make sense of this past year, and it has taken serious tolls on everyone.
Motivation and participation levels have prominently decreased in almost every class compared to previous years and students are not able to get the most out of the school year. While this year has been a testing ground for new ways to learn and live, for most students, nothing can compare to learning in school with peers and teachers face-to-face every day. “Sure I can log onto zoom every other day to try to learn a lesson, but it is in no way as beneficial as being with my teachers every day,” says junior Tristan Bukow.
Students have also said that “It has not felt as engaging with classes being half-empty this year… It would also be a lot easier to focus on doing homework when you are not burdened by remote days.” Not to mention “mentally, [students are] not in the right headspace to try to do an entire day’s worth of school at home. Being in person would help [everyone] to keep a better mindset and get more work done.”
In recent weeks, Pentucket staff and community members have come together to create the new “100% Pentucket” committee, giving hope for the return to a normal school schedule. Not to mention, the three Pentucket elementary schools, 3-feet distanced and masked, returned at the end of March.
The middle school has also recently returned to school five days a week. Because of this, students are hopeful they will have a better end to the year compared to how things have been going this past year. However, many high schoolers are questioning whether or not they will get a solid end to the year like the younger students in preschool through eighth grade.
High school teachers do feel more hopeful that the high school will make a return, and many think that it will happen after April vacation. One change that many take as a sign of a change to come is that the high school now has four lunches. This switch seems like it has been made to accommodate for more students to be able to eat lunch, which is a substantial problem at the moment.
English teacher Cora Ducolon says that “One of the main reasons why [Pentucket] high school cannot immediately go back to 100% capacity is because there are simply not enough desks and chairs for everyone.” It sounds silly that some seats are stopping the post-Covid return, but over 300 desks and chairs have been taken into the cafe for lunch at the high school, middle school, and Pentucket elementary schools.
In further regard to the chair predicament, Whittier Tech. has recently delivered some of their desks and chairs for Pentucket high school to use. However, the furniture is still an issue as Principal, Mr. Seymour says that “We are currently working through some obstacles (mostly furniture related) but we are making progress.”
These obstacles are frustrating Pentucket parents, as they are restless for their children to get back to school. “It is completely unacceptable that we are watching our kids’ brains move backward and it feels like we cannot do enough to convince building officials and/or students that the high school needs to open back up,” says one Pentucket parent. She also notes that “Our kids have been hurt like never before, and while much of the problem is due to the current Covid-situation, everyone needs to step up and take some responsibility for their educational careers.”
(Photo Source: Hannah Linehan)
While many are upset by the continued hybrid schedule at the high school, it seems that now Pentucket members are just playing a waiting game. Superintendent, Dr. Bartholomew, says that “We want to bring students back as soon as possible providing that it is safe to do so at the guidelines provided by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.”
Another shaky aspect of returning to school is whether or not students would actually show up, or if they would skip school. Many parents and teachers believe that students should want and need to come back to school, however, many students are not willing to make the jump back in. Lots of students have been working on their remote days, and frankly, they are not willing to give up their paychecks. Seeing that older students can drive themselves to and from school, would they feel motivated to stay through the end of all five days every week?
In regard to this, Dr. Bartholomew says that “Based on the guidance the state has already put out, hybrid is not an option once full, in-person is offered. Families will have to decide if they want their students to be back full, in-person, or fully remote if the high school is able to fully return this academic year.” Meaning that, when the high school makes the switch back to five days a week, it will be an all-or-nothing deal… but will students comply?
When a variety of Pentucket students were asked if they want to come back to school five days a week at 100 percent capacity, the results were scary. 40 percent of students said they do not want to come back, 31 percent said they would maybe consider returning, but only 28 percent of Pentucket students said they want to return to school. Although these numbers seem weary in spirit, 68 percent of students said they think the high school will return back to full capacity in either April or May.
These numbers are a good indicator of the sense of controversy that is felt throughout the high school. No one can agree on what schedule would be best, simply because different schedules and work methods are best suited for different people. It is impossible to create a way for students who differ on their preference of days where they attend in-person school, and Pentucket leaders are stuck with the task of finding a middle ground.
While no one can be completely certain of the high school’s plans for a return, community members hope that everyone will be able to find a good schedule that works best for them. As people have spent the past year in a constant state of uncertainty, Pentucket can only wish to provide some security and solidity to its members.