Students return to school amid empty classrooms

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Photo by Kate Kotlyar

Kate Kotlyar staff writer

Eva Levin copy editor

The return to in-school learning at the beginning of April was marked with empty hallways and sparsely populated classrooms as concerns over safety and parental limitations grew among the student population.

As cases in Los Angeles County dwindled and the vaccination rate flew up, Beverly Hills Unified School District announced both the middle and high school campuses would be open for instruction on April 8, immediately following spring break. Students virtually huddled in breakout rooms and group chats to discuss schedule changes and their cohort assignments. Some were completely ready to return, while others never wanted to set foot on campus. Some heard the schedule was going to be periods one through six every day, some heard it would be finals schedule block periods. One thread unified their conversations: uncertainty. 

That uncertainty appeared to grow as in-person days passed. Data provided to Highlights by Assistant Principal of Student Services Jill Hunt show on April 8, 44% of eligible students closed their laptops and attended school in-person. The next day, that number dropped to 29 %. By April 16, only 21 % of eligible students attended class on campus.

“We keep reinforcing and encouraging as many students who want to come back to please come back,” Hunt said. “I know sometimes the classes feel empty right now, and so sometimes that can feel awkward. But I think as more and more students come back it’ll start to feel much more normal again.”

Students back Hunt’s claim. A poll of 80 students conducted by Highlights found the third biggest reason why students did not return to their classrooms was because their friends weren’t going. 

“[My least favorite part of being in-person is that] not many of my friends went back to school, and many of those who did are not in my cohort,” junior Maya Goldkorn said. 

Hunt believes more students will be willing to come back after cohorts were eliminated on April 26. However, she admits any predictions made at the moment are all “speculation.”

“A lot of students have said that their friends are in different cohorts and so they don’t want to be here. So maybe once more students are able to come all at the same time it might increase those numbers,” Hunt said.

Junior Eli Ramer, who says he had an “amazing” first week back, is “excited” for cohorts to leave the vernacular.

“I’m extremely excited for everyone to return as I had been separated from some close friends due to the cohorts. It’ll be great to see them during the school day,” he said.

Lack of social communication isn’t the only thing barring students from heading back to school. The number one reason students opted to stay home was out of concern for their safety. Hunt says she “understands” why students might not be comfortable coming back yet, but reaffirms campus safety. Union ombudsperson and teacher Gabrielle Doyle confirms that campus is safe and all COVID-19 guidelines are followed by the district and school site. 

“We certainly have the space and we are here and ready to serve,” she said. “So, the more students, the better.”

Despite the small number of students who chose to attend school, over 48 % of students see themselves attending in the future. As for the students who decided to attend, only 10 % say they won’t go back again, citing workloads, health risks, complications, and a lack of preparation on the teachers’ end. The dramatic drop in Hunt’s statistics (44 % on day one to less than 21 % a week later) corroborate the Highlights survey’s results. Still, some students enjoyed returning to school, like Ramer.

“I had a great time seeing some teachers that I had not seen in a long time as well as meeting some others I had never met. It was also great to see my friends and just be in a classroom setting for learning,” he said.

Senior Ava Dadvand agrees.

“[My first week back] went well! It was really nice to walk around campus and see teachers,” she said. “I think I will [continue to return when the cohorts are gone.] I’ve liked having these small classes, but I am excited to see my friends who are in cohort A.”

Hunt says she is “so happy” to be back at school and in her office.

“We love being on campus with our students and so just to see students back and smiling and happy to be around each other,” she said. “I think that just it fills your heart with joy.”

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