Barbara Tomaradze.

16-year-old Barbara Tomaradze says she “can’t wait to go back” to normal, daily in-person school at Evanston Township High School this fall. The students, she says, “are just so excited” after more than a year of remote learning at home.

But Tomaradze, who is the student member of the District 202 Board of Education, told the adult board members this week that “a big thing I want to stress is we’re scared about the increase in workload.”

Tomaradze, who will be a junior, was elected to the Board by her fellow ETHS students. At Monday night’s Board meeting, she outlined the student perspective on what worked during remote education, what did not work, and what students would like to see when the 2021-22 school year begins in August.

Perhaps the biggest issue is going from zoom to boom. Tomaradze said, “In-person classes have way more work than we experienced in online classes,” so she hopes teachers will gradually increase what’s required rather than immediately returning to the pre-pandemic normal.

Tomaradze suggested ramping up the workload over a month or two, because “it’s just a huge change and huge shift” from learning remotely on the computer to being in the classroom.

In fact, Tomaradze told Evanston Now she was motivated to run for student board member because “a student voice needed to be heard” as ETHS transitions back to a regular in-person model.

“It’s really helpful to have young people involved in politics,” Tomaradze said, “in order to make a difference.”

She believes the Board will respect her suggestions. “The Board really does seem to want to pay attention and make ETHS better.”

One big positive about the COVID-impacted school year which just ended, Tomaradze said, was ETHS’ consistent approach to remote education.

“ETHS made the school year really stable,” she told the Board “There was no flip-flopping from hybrid to online” as took place in several other districts.

Tomaradze also said it was easy to stay in touch with teachers, whom she “emailed way more than I ever did” before the pandemic.

She said students appreciated that teachers were more lenient than usual on things like late papers during COVID. Remote learning and not seeing friends was challenging enough. The teachers “took off so much stress. A lower workload made us feel like we could stay on track.”

But the lower workload due to the realities of online learning had a flip side.

“It was easier to earn higher grades,” Tomaradze said, “but harder to absorb and get knowledge from the courses we were being taught.”

One reason for the higher grades, she said, at least for some, may have been cheating.

With students at home on the computer, and with all tests open-book during remote learning, Tomaradze told the Board “there were a lot of times, even if you never cheated before and you were on your Chromebook, you were able to open a new tab and just go ahead and search for the answer.”

Grades will likely “come back down,” she told Evanston Now, when students are back in the classroom taking tests without an open Chromebook.

One thing which will likely go back up is happiness. Remote learning in a pandemic was extremely isolating, even for teenagers who almost seem to live on social media.

But nothing, Tomaradze indicated, is quite like seeing someone in person.

With ETHS going back to fully in-person learning, “we’ll get out of the house, and see our friends” as well as taking part in after-school activities.

Students will still need some hand-holding, even if it’s symbolic rather than physical until everyone is vaccinated or there is herd immunity.

Tomaradze told the Board she remembers a speech which Superintendent Eric Witherspoon gave when she was in seventh grade, about how ETHS values every student as an individual.

“It just showed that you cared,” she told Witherspoon. “We could use some of those speeches again” this fall.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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