After almost a year of remote learning, many students at Naperville Central were looking forward to coming back to school. Theodore Ng, a Naperville Central sophomore, was more excited than most to get back. He was ready to get the experience he felt he was missing during remote learning.
But it just wasn’t what he felt was promised: a safe place where he could focus better and have more attention from teachers. One word sums up Ng’s experience with hybrid: disappointment.
That’s why he left.
“It’s just the same as online, except less convenient,” Ng said with an exasperated tone.
Ng is not alone. After spending more one and a half semesters zooming, the decision for District 203 to move to a hybrid model in January 2021 was a big relief to many students and parents. However, some students face unique disadvantages in the hybrid model that hurt their academic performance. Many of these students left hybrid and came back online again.
Carrie McFadden, the Assistant Principal of Operations of Naperville Central, said about 100 students have left hybrid prior to spring break.
According to McFadden, the district anticipated and welcomed this move, because they understood that everyone has unique learning needs.
“There are some kids that are being successful online… so I think that is one reason,” McFadden said. “We knew it from the start, and I’m not going to pretend [school’s] the same it has been in past years… it’s just not what they’ve expected.”
But that’s not the only reason why this shift has happened. Ng just couldn’t get the sleep he needed.
“[I] had to wake up very early to go to the bus, because my parents have to go work so they can’t take me,” Ng said. “[Online] is more convenient because … [I] get more sleep.”
Ng explained that his heavy course load requires him to stay up late every night. Staying up so late and waking up at early hours just wasn’t feasible for him, and it started to have a negative impact on his mental health.
While sleep was a major concern for Ng, the tipping point that convinced him to switch were some safety concerns.
“COVID regulations are good for the most part,” Ng said. “But there are some parts I’m concerned about, like when people are walking in the hallways. There’s barely any social distancing.”
Students who had continued with hybrid, like sophomore Esha Singh, have been very understanding of people who’ve switched back.
“I think it’s a great idea, especially for students who don’t feel comfortable or aren’t being successful,” Singh said.
After spring break District 203 transitioned from hybrid to a fully in-person model, with revised CDC guidelines reducing social distancing requirements from six to three feet.
“I do think that some families may not feel as comfortable with a three foot distance so it wouldn’t surprise me if we had more kids moving online,” McFadden said. “There is no perfect decision.”
This worry was echoed by Singh, who had almost moved back to online because of the reduction of restrictions.
“Right now, we’re considering going back online because of the three feet requirement,” Singh said. “I feel like that’s a major factor that impacts people’s decisions, especially because I notice a few kids who never wear their mask correctly. Six feet away, I’m fine with that, but with three feet, that increases your risk by quite a bit.”
Though Esha still decided to stay in-person, others could still move back over time, making the complete shift back to in-person next year even harder, as students who stayed online will struggle to readjust in person. But for many, this is the only way they believe they can stay safe while still being successful academically.
Even though McFadden believes that students coming in-person is ideal, she acknowledged that if online is a better fit for some, they should not feel pressured to come to school.
“We want kids to be successful,” McFadden said. “If they’re doing that, then I think they can stay home.”