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Some DeKalb Students Return To The Classroom For First Time In Almost A Year. Can It Last?

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Spencer Tritt
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The Biden Administration wants to reopen all schools within his first 100 days in office, but around half of all Illinois students are still learning remotely. DeKalb Public Schools is transitioning students to a partially in-person hybrid schedule for the first time since the pandemic began.

Amy Haeseker is a first-grade teacher at Cortland Elementary. She’s in her second week with in-person students. She’s thrilled to be back, teaching six students in-person, while juggling about a dozen virtually at the same time.

Her class is split in half to make classroom distancing easier. And a majority of her students chose to keep learning remotely.

“It feels nice to have students here and I can take some of that burden off of parents just by helping their child stay organized and making sure they have their materials and all those things,” she said.

The hybrid students still learn remotely three days a week. And when they’re in-person it’s not a full day.

For students that young, she says a full day in front of a screen is cruel and unusual. The school uses the afternoon for additional activities, especially if students need extra help, but with families on different schedules, they can’t all participate.

Haeseker says in a normal year there’s always a wide range of how well students are doing academically. But during this pandemic, with remote, there are way fewer kids in the middle -- and a chasm between the students who are thriving, and those who have trouble learning online.

She says her students say they’re excited to be back in the classroom too, but after the last year, it’s always in the back of her mind that they could be back online at any point.

“There are variants out there now, and we don't know what's coming,” said Haeseker. “It's almost like we have to take a leap of faith and just do the best we can. And then if circumstances change dramatically, and we need to pull back, that's one thing, but I just think it's time to take that step.”

She says she feels safe in this school with the district's protocols, and vaccines slated to come soon to teaching staff in the district also makes her more optimistic. DeKalb Interim Superintendent Griff Powell said that 80% of staff in a district-wide survey said they were interested in getting vaccinated. 

Even if there’s no recess or group work, Haeseker says the social component of just being near kids your own age in a classroom setting makes a huge difference. They do still have a socially-distant dance break midway through the day -- which they started remotely. And, she says, it’s nice to hear several people talking at once without worrying about a mute button.

President Joe Biden says the CDC is expected to release school reopening requirements as soon as this week.