“Some things we want to keep, and some things we don’t ever want to go near again.”
So said District 202 Superintendent Marcus Campbell, to a group of parents at the first ETHS “Community Talkback” session, a chance for Campbell and Principal Taya Kinzie to meet with parents out in the community.
Monday night at Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, Campell said ETHS is about to review teaching and learning strategies in what is now the post-pandemic era.
Among key areas studied will be the use of technology, literacy and culturally responsive teaching. It may take 18 months for the in-depth process to be completed.
“We’re not starting from scratch” as educators, Campbell noted. “But we are going to rethink everything.”
Kinzie stressed that students who lived through remote learning experienced something which has never been seen before.
Those youngsters, she noted, “are trailblazers,” and “really amazing when we consider everything they’ve been through.”
Campbell said that when one student was asked what adults should do now, the answer was “show more empathy.”
While many things may be different in future years, at least one pandemic-related change is going to stay.
Block scheduling, where classes are 85 minutes instead of previously half that long, has been well received by students, Kinzie said, with 60-80% giving the longer periods favorable reviews.
It’s not the extra minutes which bother some students, Campbell noted, but rather how the time is used.
“Kids don’t mind the 85 minutes”, the superintendent said. “They just don’t want a lecture for 85 minutes.”
Some concerns expressed by parents included all of the pressure on students who are trying to balance challenging coursework while getting college applications finished at the same time.
One parent said some teachers were “laying on the homework” at the same time a college early application date was imminent.
The parent was not asking for less work, just a revised timetable.
Campbell said he’ll bring the issue to the teachers.
Another college-related concern came from another parent, also suggesting that pressure to not only attend college, but attend a high-presige, highly selective university can actually backfire.
That parent said “kids at Northwestern who’ve been pushed are the ones seeing a shrink.”
But Kinzie said much of the “brand-name-college” pressure is generated by the students themselves.
Counselors often advise kids to let up a bit on all of the Advanced Placement courses, but Kinzie said, “I’m always stunned at how it gets perpetuated.”
Campbell and Kinzie are in their first years as superintendent and as principal, after a couple of decades apiece for both in other ETHS positions.
There will be three other “Community Talkback” sessions during the school year. The next one is Jan. 19 at St. Nicholas Church, and will be in Spanish.
There seems to be little doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has left a lasting impression on students, who went through remote learning, school in masks, limits on sports and other activities, and not being able to spend time in person with their friends.
Yes, the school leaders noted, things are inching back towards normal, but it’s a new normal, for ETHS, the staff, and the students.
“The kids are the same kids,” Campbell said, “but they’re also different.”