South students, faculty adjust to in-person learning


Illustration by Hyun Park

Jessie Norwood, asst. news editor

After collaborating with others in class (while maintaining a social distance of six feet), asking questions and connecting with peers, sophomore Julie Antonoglu wipes down her desk before going to her next class. With no distractions or glitches during the day, she leaves school understanding the material covered.

For Antonoglu, being back at South in-person makes school feel almost normal again.

“At home, I remember thinking it was way better than going in-person for the first few weeks, but then I realized how hard it is to learn online,” Antonoglu said. “It’s harder to ask questions, talk to your classmates and understand the material overall.”

In a survey conducted by Glenbrook South to see which students were interested in returning to in-person learning, only about 1,000 students expressed interest in returning, Principal Dr. Lauren Fagel said. Since in-person learning started on Jan. 19, 194 additional students who either missed the deadline of the survey or originally chose to stay home have been moved off a waitlist and approved to go in-person.

“[We looked] at all the classes and made sure that if we let [students] in, there [would be] space for them, because some of our freshmen and sophomore classes are pretty full,” Fagel said. “We are now at 1,275 students signed up for in-person learning, which is 40 percent of our student population.”

The majority of teachers, on the other hand, are teaching in-person. Childcare accommodations are no longer available this semester, meaning only about 80 teachers were given accommodations to stay home, Fagel explained.

“[There are] two reasons [why teachers could have an accommodation],” Fagel said. “Either [a] personal medical [accommodation] where a doctor completed a form that said it was too risky for them to be at work due to possible exposure or [a] family medical [accommodation in which] a doctor said that it’s too risky for this person to go to work and potentially bring home Covid-19.”

Only one of sophomore Shae Hussey’s teachers is teaching from home this semester, compared to the four teachers who taught remote during the first semester.

“I’m most excited about seeing my teachers and being able to communicate with them without being worried about technical difficulties,” Hussey said.

Despite many teachers returning to school, some were unable to. English Teacher Debbie Cohen finds teaching at home odd without being in a classroom with her students.

“I miss the energy of being in the classroom with my students,” Cohen said. “The other day, I told a joke and I heard kids laughing through the Owl. It honestly made me tear up.”

Despite the lack of in-person interaction with students, Cohen has tried to maintain relationships with her students.

“I try to send out ‘check-in’ emails to students who I think might be struggling, or who did some great work or who I haven’t connected with one-on-one [on] Zoom for a little while,” Cohen said.

Similar to Cohen, sophomore Kelly Hood gets her energy from interacting with others and is going to school to be able to be with her peers.

“When I wake up and go to my desk, the energy isn’t present,” Hood said. “When I go to school and see people walking around, I am awake and ready to learn.”

Katie Hoover, also an English Teacher, finds that in-person learning allows for the energy that cannot be produced over a computer screen. However, the lessons are more difficult to plan.

“I’m still trying to get better at thinking through my plan and to still allow for some interaction,” Hoover said. “[The teachers are] still trying to think through lessons and how we can continue to build off each other and share ideas from one another.”

With the reopening of the district schools, the protocols to keep students safe has changed, Superintendent Dr. Charles Johns said. With the changes, the administration hopes to better track the number of cases.

“District 225 is always thinking about the safety of its students, faculty and staff when it comes to reopening its schools,” Johns said. “In addition to existing safety practices such as social distancing, mask-wearing and self-certifications, the district recently developed a Covid-19 testing plan for admittance to school. By being able to monitor infection levels in the district, we believe that we can be more responsive if a need arises.”

Additionally, the district is removing the temperature checks from its list of safety protocols, Fagel said.

“The thermometers were having a really hard time functioning accurately and we are starting student testing [which is] a really effective mitigation strategy, whereas the thermometer wasn’t,” Fagel said.

Students like Hussey applaud the school’s effort to keep students safe while being in-person.

“I think the school is doing the best they can by making sure students clean their desks, taking Covid tests weekly and reminding kids to stay home if they don’t feel good, and in my opinion, I don’t think it can get any better,” Hussey said.

Safety protocols were not the only thing being changed from last semester, Johns explained. Although the Glenbrook schools will continue to follow the bell schedule implemented last semester, the name of this type of learning structure has changed.

“We are no longer thinking of the model as ‘hybrid’ because students are fully in-person or fully remote,” Johns said.

Hoover admires her students’ strength in these times despite the difficulties with trying to learn online or in-person and the lack of connection.

“I’m really impressed,” Hoover said. “I feel like everybody has been great about trying to stay connected and learn in a new way and share ideas.

Whether students choose to attend school in-person or stay remote, Fagel respects their decision.

“I think [there are] a variety of reasons [kids chose to stay home or go to school],” Fagel said. “I think it’s a personal family decision on how to best get through the pandemic.”

*Jack Latreille contributed to this story