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By Jay Mullen

It has been a long road back to school for every student attempting to prepare for education in this new COVID-19 world we are all experiencing daily.

Hybrid learning was already going to be challenging for students and educators alike. Then with the recent storms forcing the Whitehall junior/senior high school to remain closed until further notice, students in grades seven through 12 were forced to continue with fully remote learning.

Barbie Battease, who has a son, Izyck Davis, in seventh grade and a daughter, Presley Barker, in first grade, made the decision to have them both participate in fully remote learning.

Averi Ferguson is in fourth grade and has been participating in the new hybrid learning structure set by Whitehall Central School.

“It unfortunately was a very difficult but easy decision in the end,” she said. “Both my kids have medical issues.”

Battease said that with COVID-19 still at large it was an easy decision for the health of her kids, but not for her kids.

“Of course, they want to see their new teachers, their friends, however after having a family meeting and explaining to them that their health is more important, they jumped on board with our decision,” she said.

While there have been positive cases popping up in other districts, Whitehall has not had any as of this time.

School superintendent Patrick Dee said he was pleased with how the first week back went overall. He said that any problems that were brought up by parents were brought to their attention and resolved quickly.

“Knock on wood we have not had any major snafus,” Dee said.

The district has all the safety protocols in place to ensure that the coronavirus does not infiltrate their hallways and force a closure.

But Dee acknowledged that the situation is trickier than meets the eye.

“We have all of the procedures and protocols in place that we have to be as safe as possible,” he said. “But we’d be foolhardy to think that we are 100% immune from the problem. The important thing is that when there is an issue that we have a response plan in place to address it quickly and efficiently.”

In terms of how students and faculty have been adjusting to the new world of education post-COVID, Dee said that it is tiring for everyone.

This situation is not something that anyone is accustomed to.

“Everything we are going through is unique and different,” he said. “It’s not what any of us are used to.”

Allison Sparks’ nine-year-old daughter, Averi Ferguson, has been adjusting to the hybrid style of learning.

Ferguson attends school in-person every Monday and Tuesday, while alternating every other Wednesday. She participates in remote learning every Thursday, Friday and the alternating Wednesdays that she is not in school.

Sparks said that her daughter gets “very frustrated.”

“It’s just hard for them to maneuver around the computer and actually do their assignments,” she said. “It’s been a struggle.”

Sparks has already seen her daughter struggling through the first week of instruction. She said that Ferguson has said she misses being in school full-time, but other than that she hasn’t said that much about it.

Ferguson already struggled with in-person instruction prior to the hybrid model coming into play.

“Last year was a struggle before the whole COVID thing. This year I can already see her starting to struggle, and its only week one so that worries me. But I’m hoping it will work out, I don’t know. It’s hard,” Sparks said.

Dee was not surprised to hear about students struggling with the ever-changing climate within the education system because of the virus. He said that online education is not the norm, and that students aren’t the only ones missing out.

“The personal touch of education is extremely important,” he said. “Through the online learning that we are now being forced to do we lose that personal touch with students.”

Dee acknowledged that being in the classroom surrounded by your peers and your teachers plays a huge, vital role in motivating students. He said that the environment created by being home doesn’t put students in the proper space for motivation.

“Sitting at home in front of a screen with multiple different distractions does not put many students in a very motivated position, we recognize that,” he said.

Dee said that it is very important for parents to stay in contact with the district.

“The important thing is that we continue the partnership between home and school, and communicate very, very clearly and openly if there is a problem,” he said.

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