Cautiously Returning to School in the Fall of 2020

As we near the end of this school year, students have gotten used to GDS’ current distance learning program. It is possible that a similar type of schedule will be used for some of the next school year. It would be a mistake for the school to favor a fast return to in-person education over another stint of distance learning.

Many studies suggest that this fall will be accompanied by a resurgence of COVID-19. According to a Washington Post article citing the research of numerous epidemiologists, “A decline in transmission in summer would probably be followed by a seasonal increase in infections in the fall.” 

Additionally, Tenleytown has one COVID-19 positive case per 100 people and is currently the only neighborhood in Ward Three with over 100 confirmed positive cases. Ward Four, the region east of the school, has also been hit particularly hard by the pandemic: One in four D.C. cases come from this region. Because GDS is surrounded by high-risk areas, the school should be especially cautious when returning to physical instruction.

Distance learning itself, however, needs to undergo some changes if it is going to be the primary way the school educates students next year. Various teachers and students have concerns about the effectiveness of distance learning. Many have ideas and suggestions for ways in which the system should be improved next year. Math Department Chair Lee Goldman pointed out that “there’s a lot of issues in teaching that get compounded with distance learning.” One issue that Goldman pointed out is that struggling students are less able—and less likely—to receive help during distance learning.

But Goldman also brought up her reservations about beginning the school year through distance learning: “I cannot imagine going into this with the faces in front of me on Zoom as unknown people.” 

French teacher Belinda Lartey also acknowledged the difficulty of starting the year from home: “If I didn’t know you… I wouldn’t know how to approach you online.” An unknown class would throw yet another wrench into the already difficult process of giving instruction to a collection of boxes on a screen rather than a group of actual people. 

Lartey, who has used a variety of technologies to enhance her students’ learning experience during distance learning, also brought up some things she would like to see changed. She said that many students have seemed disillusioned and unmotivated by the lack of letter grades. She believes that whatever broad schedule changes occur, something needs to change in the students themselves. “Doing more synchronous classes—it won’t change anything if there isn’t more buy in,” she said. 

These are issues that students may be able to solve themselves next year if they are more used to distanced education and have more external motivators, such as grades, to urge them along.It is clear that it would be an error for GDS to jump the gun and return to in-person instruction too soon, putting its valued students and staff at risk. It is absolutely essential that the school take these concerns into consideration and not make any rash decisions without first considering all of the potential consequences. The school should also make some small modifications to its current style of teaching, while the school continues with some form of distance learning.

Adam Left ’22