Some students returned to classes in person at Riverside-Brookfield High School late last month, but it was more like a trickle than a flood.
As the school switched to an optional hybrid learning plan, less than half of RBHS students have chosen to come to school in person. Two weeks ago, freshmen were able to come to school one day a week. Last week was the first week that all RBHS students could come to school one day a week, if they so chose.
“Last week the high school averaged approximately 170 students on campus each day, which is below our original projection of 250 students per day (based on previous survey data),” said District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis in an email.
RBHS has an enrollment of about 1,600 students, so if all students attended on the day of the week that they are assigned to there would be about 400 students in the building.
School officials initially had projected that nearly 70 percent of students would attend school in person. But last week only about 43 percent of RBHS students reported to classrooms in person.
The reasons for students not going to school in person vary. Some have stayed away as COVID cases spiked upward in recent weeks, while others felt going to school one day a week to attend class on Zoom — even with the teacher and a few other students in the classroom — just wasn’t worth getting up earlier for.
“I live with my grandparents already, so it’s already kind of problematic for me to be going out,” said RBHS senior Isabella Linarez, who chose to stay home week. “I believe there isn’t much of a point to go back, since students are just sitting there on Zoom. Nothing is different other than you are at school, and while it may help you get into a routine, I don’t believe it is worth it — especially if we have to go back only one day a week.”
But some students who did attend class in person felt that it was a positive experience.
“I felt like I got a lot more done than I did at home,” said senior Lily Adlesick, a student representative to the school board.
But Adlesick admitted that it wasn’t a typical classroom experience. She told the school board that she was the only student present in person in one of her classes. The most students present in person in any of her classes was five.
Those low numbers apparently discouraged other students from coming to school.
“The kids feel like it’s not worth coming in because so few kids are coming,” Adlesick said.
Under the hybrid model, students attend can attend school in person one day a week. They attend classes remotely the rest of the week remotely, so every day teachers are teaching some students in the classroom and others remotely at the same time. Classes are all conducted on Zoom or Google Meet.
Senior Tess Obuchowski also chose not to attend class in person. She is in the fall play, “Clue,” and already comes to RBHS every afternoon for rehearsals.
“Just between going in for the show and I also have a job that I’ve been working during quarantine, I didn’t want to risk extra exposure by going in,” Obuchowski said.
With a slightly modified schedule designed to get students out of the building before lunchtime, class periods are just 35 minutes four days a week.
“The whole virtual thing has been very strange, especially with the new schedule,” Obuchowski said. “We get out at 12:35 most weekdays, which is good for getting homework and college applications done and stuff. It’s just so weird to finish early in the day.”
Zoom fatigue, staring at a screen for hours, also has been difficult.
“You wouldn’t expect it to be tiring because you’re just sitting in a chair all day, but it’s so much harder to focus,” Obuchowski said.
The rolling average 14-day positivity rate for the 60546 zip code, which includes Riverside and North Riverside, has risen to 6.54 percent while the rolling average positivity rate for Brookfield has risen to 8.15 percent — 11.58 percent over the last week.
“It is trending in the wrong direction,” Skinkis told the school board at the Oct. 27 school board meeting.
The metric superintendents pay the most attention to, the positivity rate for suburban Cook County, was 10.1 percent as of Oct. 30, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Superintendents pay attention to the suburban Cook County because teachers come from all over the Chicago metropolitan area.
One bright side of the sparse in-person attendance at RBHS is that social distancing was much easier to maintain.
“Keeping our cohorts small does provide us some flexibility if the numbers were to remain as they are,” Skinkis said. “Our goal right now is to get people in the building in small groups.”
Students are using three entrances at RBHS to maintain social distance.
Skinkis said if positive cases continue to increase, the school might have to hit an “adaptive pause” in its hybrid model and switch back to 100-percent remote learning until cases decrease.
He said he would monitor the numbers closely and decide every Friday what to do the following week.
RBHS had been scheduled to move next week to students attending class twice a week, up from the current one day a week. But given the current number of COVID cases Skinkis said that the one-day-a-week schedule would likely continue next week.