AAPS students begin school year via Zoom

Monday, September 7, 2020 - 3:23pm

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Design by Taylor Schott

On Tuesday, 7-year-old Lev Solomon will begin the second grade at Eberwhite Elementary School. But instead of greeting his teachers and coloring in nametags alongside his classmates, Solomon will log onto his first day via Zoom. 

“I really wish I could be in person,” Solomon said. “I just want to meet all my classmates and meet all my teachers, and I want to be in-person to do that.”

In lieu of the coronavirus pandemic — which has affected more than 3,000 people in Washtenaw County — Solomon’s school district, Ann Arbor Public Schools, released its Reimagine Learning plan on July 23. The plan outlined the school district’s remote and hybrid learning curriculums for its more than 18,000 students during the 2020-21 school year, giving students and parents three learning options to choose from: A2 Student Link, A2 Classroom Connect and A2 Virtual+ Academy. 

The first option, A2 Student Link, enables students to take part in a classroom-paced online learning environment with their teachers and classmates all year long, even if in-person classes were allowed to convene. A2 Classroom Connect allows students a hybrid style of learning, starting off the school year online but having the ability to eventually attend in-person classes as the school district and state move through their reopening phases. The last option, A2 Virtual+ Academy, lets students have an individualized curriculum, attending classes and doing homework at their own pace. 

AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift spoke to The Daily about the school board’s plan for the academic year. She said they plan to make the experience beneficial for students, teachers and parents given the circumstances. 

“We believe that the real magic in the classroom is the interactions from students to students in their learning, so we knew that we wanted to make sure that it was interactive,” Swift said. “We’re really excited about the school year. We’re excited to get a strong virtual launch that will prepare us for wherever we might be headed this year.”

While AAPS moves forward with their plan to learn from home, Swift said they are closely monitoring a number of factors — including regional and county-wide COVID-19 data — to determine the next phase of reopening schools. One of the factors being considered is the University of Michigan’s COVID-19 numbers as students return to campus, which is in the heart of Ann Arbor. 

Despite AAPS’s location in a college town, Education junior Stacey Beringer told The Daily she anticipates challenges for public schools everywhere, regardless of their location.

“Having a ton of college kids around — who, a lot of them, may not be taking it as seriously … — it’s not going to mitigate the spread of the virus, and so it’s going to make it a lot harder to allow the public schools (in the surrounding area) to be in person when there’s this going on as well,” Beringer said.

Solomon’s mother, Onna Solomon, who is also a social worker and therapist, said she will be sitting next to her sons as they learn from home in Ann Arbor, ensuring that Lev and her younger son, Max, do not fall behind. She said she foresees challenges ahead for young, elementary school-aged children as they are taught fundamental lessons from their computer screens.

“I think parents are going to have a much bigger role at home, online schooling, especially for younger kids,” Onna Solomon said. “For my kindergartner, there’s going to have to be an adult with him for any part of his education because, developmentally, he’s not able to do it independently.”

Though she remains optimistic in the plans laid out by the AAPS school board, Onna said she still has some concerns about the underlying uncertainty of K-12 education during the pandemic. She said there is no way to predict how even a well-structured curriculum will actually come to fruition. 

“The biggest thing I’m struggling with is the uncertainty,” Onna said. “All the teachers are uncertain about how it’s going to go, all the parents are uncertain. You can’t plan (this out) because nobody’s ever done this before.”

In high schools across the district, seniors are also grappling with the difficulties of their final year in the K-12 school system. 

Zachary Pryor, a senior at Pioneer High School, expressed his dismay at not being able to start his senior year alongside all of his classmates. 

“I’m a little disappointed that I’m not going to get a normal senior year,” Pryor said. “I signed up for the hybrid version, so I’m hoping that at least I’ll get a little bit of a senior year. But even if I do, it’s probably not going to be normal.”

Pryor also discussed the possibility of not being able to participate in some of the traditional events of a typical high school senior year, like walking across the stage at graduation or pridefully cheering at one last high school football game. 

Having experienced the abrupt shift to a virtual classroom in March, Pryor said online learning could potentially prohibit the level of new learning students of all ages would receive in a normal year. Pryor said creating connections with new teachers may be more difficult in a remote setting.

“I think it would definitely affect me more if I hadn’t seen it coming,” Pryor said. “But I think we all kind of knew that we weren’t going to be in person senior year. I feel worse for the students who are starting out their K-12 experience online because they’re not going to be able to interact with their (teachers and classmates).”

Despite the various plans for the school year, none of which will enable students to be fully in-person, students at all levels in Ann Arbor, like Pryor, will be looking to make the most of their education. 

 “I want to go back somehow,” Pryor said. “I don’t want my last day of high school to be March 13, 2020, junior year. I think that I want to try and get back at some point.”

Daily Staff Reporter Julia Forrest can be reached at juforres@umich.edu.