It’s six weeks into a different kind of school year at Grand Forks Public Schools.
So, how do students feel the year is going so far? The Herald caught up with some of the high schoolers it interviewed before the year started, and their overarching opinion is that the school has been going well, all things considered.
“After (moving) online, I’ve been doing pretty good,” Joaquin Parisien, a senior at Central High School, told the Herald. He’s one of 338 high school students in the district who opted to learn exclusively online this semester, which, according to district staff, represents about 15% of the high school student body.
Parisien said the system through which he takes virtual classes is smoother and better organized than the one district leaders put into place last spring after they canceled all in-person classes at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A commonly reported upside of learning entirely at home this semester: the district’s online classes generally let students learn at their own pace, which interviewees said lets them digest, say, an English reading assignment more easily.
“That helps a lot,” said Evelynn Longtine, another Central senior. “I don’t have to worry about me not understanding the topics and then in class feeling like I’m falling behind everybody else.”
Skyler Bergstrom, another Central senior, felt similarly.
“If I don't understand something, I can stay with that,” he said. “Or if I do understand a lot of something, I can work ahead.”
But that kind of coursework can be a blessing and a curse: students who are learning entirely online and those who opted for the district’s “hybrid” learning model – where they alternate between in-school and online-only days with another cohort of roughly equal size – both said it’s easy to fall behind in the online courses, and that online school days can sometimes feel like days off.
“We don’t get a lot of homework, but it’s hard, time management-wise, especially for high schoolers,” said Hailey Englehart, who’s using the hybrid learning method in her senior year at Central.
And, regardless of which model they choose, learning from home also means students miss a lot of the face-to-face social connections that can define high school.
“It's kind of hard because there's a lot of things that haven't happened this year, like school dances, or just some games,” Englehart said. “This is our last year, and we don't have a lot of stuff going on.”
Englehart said she hoped for more consistency from classroom to classroom on masks – some teachers require them at all times while others allow students to remove their masks if they’re 6 feet apart or more – and, more broadly, hoped for a return to normal.
“Going to school every day would be way better,” she said. “I get that most people would say that we shouldn’t do that because then the numbers will start rising more, but at the same time even now the numbers are rising. So if they're already rising and we're doing this, then why shouldn't we just go back to normal?”
The students who show up for in-person classes every other day have, almost universally, been OK wearing masks and following the other social distancing guidelines set up by district administrators, Superintendent Terry Brenner reported to Grand Forks City Council members on Monday.
Students who spoke to the Herald said the same.
“People have been very good about it,” Annika Mellum, another 12th-grader at Central, said. “I think they've really done a good job of tracking and also making sure people are wearing their masks.”
And about two miles west of Central, students at Community High School have been learning in a way that’s unique even among their peers at other district schools. Their classes are, by and large, all in-person, but Community students can learn remotely if they can point to an approved medical or logistical reason.
That lets Andrea Mosley, a junior there, study around her job.
“Allowing me to do school and work at the same time is really nice,” she said.
Rather than moving from one subject to the next, students there take a single class throughout each school day for about two weeks, then start a new class, then start another after another two weeks, and so on.
At the beginning of October, Mosley said some of her classmates were growing tired of their second class and were anxious to move on to the third. But, beyond that, she had only good news to report.
“I really enjoyed the first month,” Mosley said. “It was pretty good, in my opinion.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: In August, the Herald asked students how they felt about the then-upcoming school year, and verified the identity of each student whose response the paper published. Students from a variety of Grand Forks Public Schools filled out the newspaper's survey, but nearly all of those who responded to follow-up phone calls and whose identities the paper could verify are students at Central.