Covid-19 forces schools to go fully remote

By: Sierra Hauer

   As local cases of Covid-19 rise, schools in the area have been forced to close down and go fully remote.

remote learning pic
Junior Hannah Schweiger uses Microsoft Teams for remote learning. Photo courtesy: Hannah Schweiger

   GS schools have been as fortunate as possible during the Coronavirus pandemic, but no one knows what the future holds. The elementary schools have gone fully remote twice and the entire district is fully remote until at least January 4th. With the uncertainties surrounding Covid-19, many people have started to worry and speculate how long the hybrid system will last.

   “I think that we should honestly close [all schools] if we want to stop the spread of the virus,” freshman Drezden Gesalman said.

   With cases rising in Westmoreland County, there is a possibility of all schools shutting down. Schools like Yough and Greater Latrobe have already gone fully remote during the spike in cases, and they will remain online until their county statistics show two weeks of “Moderate” transmission rates.

   GS had to make a similar call when they decided to go fully remote until at least the end of Christmas Break.

   “There were several data points to examine when looking at that decision,” administrator Dr. Gary Peiffer said. “These factors include the most recent number of positive Covid-19 cases per 100,000 in our county, the positivity rate of Covid from PCR tests which indicate the rate the virus is spreading, the numbers of positive tests among our students and faculty and the number of faculty who have to quarantine due to being in close contact with a positive case.”

   Many factors dictate whether or not GS schools can stay hybrid or not, but one of the most important ones is attendance. If there are too many students and staff at home, it can be difficult to keep the schools open. It is challenging to find enough ways to cover the classes of a teacher who is home quarantining. However, it’s better to be safe and quarantine if there is a possibility of having been in contact with a positive case than risking spreading the virus even more.

   “I think that we should be remote [because of] the number of cases in tech schools because kids hang out with lots of other people and are capable of spreading Covid-19 unnoticed,” senior Kassidy Sullenburger said. “On top of that, there are probably more cases than we think because not everyone shows symptoms and that puts everyone at risk.”

   Asymptomatic patients are difficult to detect, which is definitely not a good thing when dealing with a highly contagious virus. People may be carrying Covid-19 and not even know it, so ordinary precautions like masks may not be enough.

   Similarly, teaching children to wear a mask and stay six feet apart is a challenge, so it did not surprise some to hear that Metzgar Elementary had to close for a week in October due to cases within the school.

   “Maybe it should remain closed because the little kids aren’t always capable of understanding the complicated things happening right now, so they’ll continue to spread it,” Sullenburger said.

   It can be a challenge to understand the risks of Covid-19 at any age, especially that young. However, there are many advantages and disadvantages to keeping children out of school for safety.

   Especially for high schoolers, online school can be tedious and confusing.

   “I believe that it is difficult to get ahold of teachers because everyone is online at different times,” Gesalman said. “If I were to message a teacher and say they wouldn’t respond for an hour, then I may log off and get an answer in the morning. For some students and I, it’s been hard to explain to myself and receive directions over the computer.”

   Communication has been difficult for some teachers as well because they may have a hard time reaching some students.

   “It is more difficult [to get in touch with students],” chemistry teacher Mrs. Tammy Elliott said. “It is much easier when you see students in class every day to check in with them or remind them of assignments. Now, I can send chat messages and it may take hours for them to respond, and sometimes they never do.”

   Communication isn’t the only issue regarding online school, though.

   “It’s harder to do my tech classes because sometimes I don’t have the materials I need to do the work I need to do,” Sullenburger said. “Tech kids are struggling heavily right now because we have classes that make virtual learning impossible.”

   While GS schools may be fully remote right now, classes offered at the Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center are still being held in person, as well as online. As long as a student has transportation to and from the high school, they can attend the in-person classes at CWCTC.

   “If we can drive there we are allowed to go, but f we can’t we have google classroom stuff that has all of our assignments, projects and attendance,” Sullenburger said.

cropped google classroom pic
GS students already have to navigate between Teams, Onenote and Moodle, but some CTC students must also use Google Classroom for their classes. Photo courtesy: Kassidy Sullenburger

   Even fully remote students can agree that some classes are more challenging to do online.

   “I think there are definitely classes that are harder to do online,” junior Hannah Schweiger said. “I think pottery is definitely one of them because most people don’t have the materials for it and if they don’t have a license and their parents work and can’t get off, it can be difficult going to the school a lot to get stuff or drop stuff off. I also think classes like chorus, child development and drama could be harder to do online.”

   Despite how challenging a course may be, some students just might need a little extra support with online instruction. There are many distractions outside of a school setting, and most teachers understand that it isn’t always as easy to learn online.

   “I think it depends on the student,” Mrs. Elliott said. “Many students do very well with working and learning independently, setting their own schedule and getting their work done. However, there are students who are social learners who need or prefer the interaction and group work. That is what motivates them to learn, and so far it is harder for them to be remote.”

   Sports and afterschool activities would also be greatly affected by going fully remote. If there are too many cases, there is a chance that the activities will be canceled.

   “Different after school activities have been affected in different ways,” Dr. Peiffer said. “Many activities were postponed or canceled. Coaches and sponsors have been thinking out of the box to provide extra-curricular activities for students while adhering to the guidelines established by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.”

   In general, going fully remote might make some classes a struggle to do. However, health and safety remain a priority for most staff, students and parents, so they are willing to deal with a little bit of discomfort.

   “Overall if classes do get shut down (in person), there will have to be ways to accommodate every class and if the school doesn’t get shut down there will have to be changes made to keep it safe for every student and teacher,” Schweiger said. 

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