As the bell rings, students flood out of classrooms into one-way hallways, greeting only half of their classmates with mask-hidden smiles, hoping for a break from the screen time or a mask-free minute during their next period.
No one would have ever predicted that schooling would look like this in 2020.
At Fairfield Warde High School, students, faculty, and administration combat the risks of Covid-19 with a flurry of social distancing guidelines. All hallways are marked with arrows to limit passing-time traffic. Students and faculty must wear masks at all times, except for lunch. Desks must stay six feet apart, and no group work or hands-on activities can occur. No congregating. No taking sips of water. And perhaps the biggest of all? The entire student body is split into two cohorts, alternating between in-person school days and at-home, never seeing the other half.
But, with students often walking opposite of the hallway arrows without repercussions, with masks being pulled down to expose noses, desks being slid closer at lunchtime, constant social congregating, and the frequent explanation of “we hang out outside of school,” are Warde’s social distancing guidelines really effective?
Warde students say no.
“Students find the guidelines inconvenient, so we don’t always feel the need to follow them,” says Jillian Motkin, a current senior at Warde. “I’m not going to go downstairs to Fitts just to walk back up for my next class. Besides, if I have sleepovers with my friends, why does it matter if I move my desk to sit with them at lunch?”
For senior Alexa Amster, guidelines are even harder to follow when they impact the enjoyment of senior year.
“We aren’t going to stop taking pictures without masks for Halloween dress-ups or senior spirit days,” Amster says.
Warde teachers feel differently. The guidelines are working, but at what cost?
“People are following the directions for the most part, and having cohorts makes it easier,” says Warde history teacher, Mr. Morgan. “But I have had to rethink everything as a teacher, which is very frustrating. It is harder to teach, and certainly harder for students to learn. The sense of a classroom community is completely absent, students aren’t participating as much, and the student-to-teacher interaction is not the same.”
Warde Headmaster Mr. Cavanna seems to echo the sentiments of both sides regarding the Covid-19 guidelines.
“I’m not going to say everything is working perfectly fine, because it’s not. We have to continue to learn and grow and work through it,” says Cavanna. “But we’re dealing with people, and you can only control people for so much. You can’t be too heavy-handed or else you’re going to totally discourage everyone [from following the guidelines], but you have to be smart in making sure people are being as safe as possible.”
All in all, though, Mr. Cavanna thinks Warde’s guidelines are effective, and the credit goes to students and faculty.
“Maybe it’s lucky, but there is a sense of pride that, as of right now, we have been doing pretty well. That’s not because of me. That’s because of you and your classmates. Do we always strive to be more vigilant? Of course.”
The biggest question on everyone’s mind: what does the future hold?
Mr. Cavanna says it will be at least another month in the hybrid model before the Board of Education reassesses, but he has hope. “The elementary schools are going back, so who knows. I’d like to get back to as normal as possible.”
As for the senior class, not to worry; they are on the forefront of Mr. Cavanna’s mind. “The seniors last year actually had half of a year. This year, you guys don’t have any of it. I want to make sure you get some type of prom, some type of graduation, and are able to enjoy all the fun parts of high school.”
Whether Warde’s Covid-19 social distancing guidelines are effective or not, it seems to be a matter of opinion and perspective, but what everyone can agree on is the strain it puts on the academic setting.
When asked what their biggest fear was about Covid-19 going forward, students, teachers, and administrators all said the same thing:
“I feel like this is never going to end,” says Mr. Morgan.