In-person classes have resumed at Wilson

Joanna Chait

An estimated 395 students returned to Wilson for in-person learning for the first time in almost one year. 

According to Data Coordinator Joseph Bellino, about 600 students of the total enrollment did not meet the immunization requirements, and therefore are not permitted to return. 

He does not have a precise number of students who have actually set foot in the school building. 

 Of the students who registered to return, 46 percent are white, 24 percent are Black, 23 percent are Hispanic, and 4 percent are identified as “other.” 

Students may decide to attend in-person up until the last day of Term 3, April 12, as long as their class has not reached maximum capacity: ten students. 

Families only have the option to accept a seat if invited. Students must reach out to both their counselors and teacher if they want to attend to their first or third periods in-person. 

 Each department is assigned a day of the week for in-person learning. Teachers see a maximum of two cohorts of 10 students. Students are only in the building for half a day, once a week, and remain in their cohort. 

Upon entering the building, students fill out a health form, get their temperatures checked, and then go through the metal detectors. If they’ve arrived early, students wait socially distanced in the atrium until they are dismissed by administrators to go to their class. 

The building is uncharacteristically empty, quiet, and clean.The elevators are not in commission, and there are hand sanitizing stations on every stair entrance of each floor.  The desks in each classroom are arranged six feet apart. Students and teachers wear masks at all times. 

Depending on the teacher, some in-person students participate in the same lesson as their virtual peers, but others have a different lesson. After the first period is over, teachers switch classrooms while students remain in their cohorts for the next virtual class. 

Martin had a lot to consider when designing her plan. “I couldn’t change the master schedule. There were a lot of factors that I was working with and one was just trying to get teachers to want to come,” she said. “The likelihood that we would meet all the students’ needs, get to our 25 percent [requirement], and only target a certain population of students, didn’t make sense.”

Martin added that to prioritize safety, “it was really important to limit the amount of student and teacher exposure.”

The precautions in place have a noticeable effect. Science teacher Dani Moore said,  “I do feel safe in the building.” 

Junior Darwin Denny echoes Moore’s sentiment. He felt safe while taking his Algebra II class in the Wilson building. “You could tell that they put like [proper] precautions in place,” Denny said. 

 

Even with extensive protocols, the amount of students opting to return has still  been significantly lower than anticipated.

Martin explained that the main cause of the problem is that “[students do not] want to come to school for half a day. That’s not an ideal schedule based on student learning or student interests.” 

She emphasized that only having students come into the building for half of a day made teachers feel much more comfortable returning. However, this could make it less accessible to all students.

The equity of the plan, particularly seat selection, has been widely questioned.  “The process of seat selection [was] not based on any data or defined methodology, which opens it up to inequity,” a longtime member of the Wilson faculty said. 

Special education academic coordinator and social studies teacher Chisda Magid was similarly concerned that “without providing any guidelines, or any impetus towards equity, [teachers] will choose the students they know.”

According to Bellino, he provided teachers with a report of their first and third period students’ including “term one grades, term two progress report information, and the term two grades at the time.”

Through a program called Elsie, created by Bellino, teachers could access data about current student grades, schedules, and GPAs to determine who to invite back. However, the program can only be used on DC Wi-Fi, so teachers must be at a DCPS building to use the program. 

Working with Elsie can be tedious if not on DCPS property, so general education teachers rarely used it, Magid explained. Even if it were more accessible, “the plan is not academic, so academic data has limited use,” Magid said. 

He is worried that this will “worsen existing inequities within Wilson, based on ability and race, raising questions about who this plan benefits.” 

Martin acknowledges that this model prioritizes safety, rather than exponentially improving educational value. “I’m not confident that students are [getting] a huge academic benefit from coming to school for half a day, a week,” Martin said. 

Although, Martin explained that her biggest concern is students’ mental health. She explained that teachers and students alike seemed thrilled to return to the building. “Happiness, even teacher excitement about being back, is better than anticipated.” 

Junior Natalie Sipress feels that learning in the Wilson building has improved her mental well-being. “Going in person fosters a stronger connection with my teacher, which decreases my stress about school and makes me more excited about learning,” they said. 

Likewise, Moore is benefitting mentally from returning to school. “I found, just like the whole rest of the day, that my energy felt way up. I’ve been living in this fog of sluggishness since last March that I wasn’t even aware of anymore,” Moore said. 

Denny expressed a similar sentiment as Moore, “At the end of the day the first time, I could see myself going for the rest of the year.” 

Martin is excited about the social benefits of reopening. “[The plan is going] better than I expected because the students who are coming seem very, very happy,” she said.