Teachers and Administrators Share Feelings About Shift to Four Days Per Week of In-Person School


Ryan Cechini

With the new four-day learning model, students will no longer attend school in cohorts — instead, the full student body can convene on campus starting on April 12.

Maddie Khaw, Editor in Chief

With the COVID-19 pandemic, things are ever-changing. Safety guidelines, vaccine availability, and case counts are among the fluctuating factors that contribute to the unpredictability that has gripped the lives of many over the past year.

La Salle — along with schools everywhere — has adapted, often on short notice, to updated safety protocols and regulations for schools, forging students and staff into the uncharted territories of distance learning and hybrid classrooms.

Having shifted from full in-person instruction to asynchronous distance learning to synchronous distance learning to the hybrid model, all throughout the last 12 months, La Salle’s announcement of its plan to shift to an almost fully in-person format is the latest of many changes for students, staff, and their families.

With this shift, La Salle will move to a four-day schedule of in-person instruction, collapsing the red and blue cohorts that under the hybrid model had split the student population to limit the amount of people filling the school’s halls and classrooms on a given weekday. 

“I’m excited about one more step closer to having kids back,” Principal Ms. Alanna O’Brien said. “I miss feeling like a community and I miss feeling like people are here with us, so I’m looking forward to seeing more students here at a time. I just think teenagers have taken a hard hit in this pandemic, so I just want to be supportive of them.”

The change came on the heels of updated protocols added to the Oregon Department of Education (ODE)’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, which now mandates at least three feet of distance between students who are wearing masks in classrooms — as opposed to the previous six-foot regimen — in alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recently updated guidance for K-12 students in classroom settings.

“There’s… scientific data that supports the idea that students can be safely in classrooms at a space of three feet,” Vice Principal of Student Life Mr. Brian Devine said. “I think that was a turning point for our administrative team, just having the time to read through that research and to consider what other schools are doing and the success that other schools have had.”

With the safety guidance from both the state and the CDC reducing the amount of distance required between students in classrooms, La Salle is able to bring the full student body on campus at once rather than just half the students, eliminating the need for the cohorts.

“We’ve always followed the CDC and the ODE guidance, and this is just the next step of guidance that we received,” Ms. O’Brien said. “I think we also are feeling more optimistic now that more people are being vaccinated, and the idea that we could end the school year feeling closer to what school used to be gives us a little bit of hope. It just felt like a step in the right direction.”

La Salle’s decision to move to this new format was also informed by a family survey, in which, the school reported, 77% of the 321 respondents favored the idea of a four-day schedule.

“A majority of parents want us to go back to four days a week, and we feel that we can do it safely, so we have made that decision to do so,” Vice Principal of Academics Ms. Kathleen Coughran said. “We want to be in person — I think that’s our goal, to do so safely — to rebuild our community, and to bring people back together. And so, I think that’s where the emphasis was to make that transition.”

Not only have families expressed support for four-day weeks of in-person instruction, Mr. Devine said, but parents have also reported various difficulties that students have faced in digital learning, which has prompted the administrative team to try to formulate plans to help students get back on track.

“We just heard from a lot of parents that their kids were just struggling without that interaction with teachers and without having that one-on-one connection in the classroom,” Mr. Devine said. “Overwhelmingly, people are feeling good about that [hybrid] opportunity being available over the last few weeks, and I’ve talked to a few parents… [who said] that their students’ demeanor, their students’ attitudes have just really improved around academics, around school, because of the opportunity to be back on campus.”

As the administrative team feels that the hybrid model has been carried out safely and effectively since its implementation in February, the decision to move to a four-day format was made swiftly after returning from spring break, when the updated CDC and ODE guidelines were released. 

“We’ve been able to find success in the current model,” Mr. Devine said. “[What’s] guiding us is [getting] all of our students back on campus, having a normal high school experience. That’s our compass that we’re pointing towards, so I think we have to be willing to take this next step in order to see if it works and to see if we’re able to make this successful in this next iteration.” 

Ms. Coughran said that the four-day format is one step closer to the administrative team’s goal to “regain a little bit of that normalcy.”

“We’re looking for ways to support students academically, socially, emotionally, mentally, all of those,” Ms. Coughran said. “We feel that being on campus, in person, where they can see their teachers, be with their teachers, see their friends, see people in their class, we feel that that is the way to go, given the struggles that we’ve heard this year. Is it the magic bullet, is it going to solve all our problems? No, it’s not. But is it a step in the right direction? We feel that it is. And if we can do it and we feel we can do it safely, then that’s what we want to do.”

In the new format, the Wednesday Flex Day will remain intact, so students will attend on-campus classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Similar to the hybrid model, students and families have the option of filling out a form to remain in or return to comprehensive distance learning rather than participate in the four-day in-person schedule if they are uncomfortable with a larger capacity of students in the building.

With more students on campus at once, Mr. Devine said that there will be efforts to uphold the same safety protocols — such as mask wearing, distancing, one-way hallways, and limited bathroom capacity — that have been in place during the hybrid model, as the administrative team feels those protocols have been effective.

“We expect that we’re going to continue those same protocols,” Mr. Devine said. “I think what’s going to change is the vigilance on the part of adults and students to adhere to those. It’s going to be a little bit easier for students to congregate together when there’s more students in the hallway… Students are going to be vigilant and adults are going to be vigilant about reminding students that they have to keep that space.”

Teachers have now been vaccinated, which allows for more comfort among staff around the idea of full in-person learning. However, the implementation of yet another transition in instruction format causes stress for some teachers, who were just settling in to the adjustment to hybrid classrooms.

“I’ve spent so much time over the past few weeks working to acclimate to the new hybrid structure that this felt a little like a setback for me,” social studies teacher Ms. Mallory Spanjer said. “I also thought about the students who will remain distant learners, and I can’t help but feel that we really need to make sure they continue to be a really important part of the conversation.”

Other teachers expressed varying levels of stress about the quick adjustment that is being asked of them, with a new change being implemented in back-to-back succession with the school’s recent switch to the hybrid format. 

“I think it’s just the fact that we’re being asked to shift what we’re doing so dramatically, so many times, that’s making it really hard,” English and physical education teacher Ms. Stephanie Vermeychuk said. “I’m doing the best I can, but… I just am literally trying to survive till the end of the school year without completely breaking down.”

One challenge that teachers have faced during the hybrid format is the need to balance their instruction between the students in person and the students at home.

“It caused me to just split my attention a lot,” religious studies teacher Mr. Noah Banks said. “I can’t really teach well and also be distracted with something else, and so I find that that is just a real mental burden on me, to try to be teaching to two different groups.”

With the four-day model, some teachers said they feel positive about having more students in front of them and less students to try to connect with through a screen. However, some individuals — including Mr. Banks — also expressed worries about maintaining engagement among the students who choose to remain in comprehensive distance learning while a greater number of students convene on campus.

“My biggest concern going to four days in person is that the students who continue distance learning are going to get lost in the shuffle in a major way,” Mr. Banks said. “Now, everybody’s going to be in person, more or less, except for those three to five students… I think a lot of teachers are going to kind of automatically or just kind of accidentally focus on the students in the classroom, to the detriment of those at home.”

Ms. Vermeychuk’s thoughts on the four-day format are similar to those of Mr. Banks in that she finds it difficult to manage both in-person and online students simultaneously. 

“I think it’s going to be easier in some ways, but then my concern, a very real concern, is for those kids who are still not coming to school at all,” Ms. Vermeychuk said. “Now [that] there’s going to be even more kids in the classroom, that’s where the teacher’s attention is going to be… and so I feel like the kids who have opted for whatever reason to stay in distance learning, I think they’re really going to kind of get the short end of the stick even more than they have been.”

Science teacher Mr. Ryan Kain said that in order to try to combat this challenge, he plans to be intentional about tailoring his classes to meet the needs of students at home.

“With kids in four days a week, it’s like, it’s great that you’re here, but my mindset is still on [the fact that] I’ve got folks at home,” Mr. Kain said. “I want to make it as equitable for those humans and the same sort of experience for those humans, because some people don’t have the choice of whether they can come in, and I’m very cognizant of that.”

Ms. Spanjer said that she will also aim to maintain equal quality of instruction between her different groups of students.

“For now my plan is to continue with the base understanding that some of my students are in front of me and some are at home tuned in via my computer screen,” Ms. Spanjer said. “I have to make sure I take the two groups into account equally. I don’t plan on changing instruction methods from what I’ve done this past month.”

Despite the challenges presented by the quick shift to four-day instruction and the disunion between online and in-person students, teachers spoke positively about increasing face-to-face interaction with students, and acknowledged the benefits for students in being on campus more frequently.

“I hope that it will be a positive change for many students, as I know that being on campus can be motivating, and having more in-person contact between students and teachers is helpful,” German teacher Ms. Hannah Grossi said. “I understand that this is a welcoming change for a lot of students and families, and I am supportive of them. I believe returning to campus will be a positive change for my students’ mental health and overall happiness.”

Mr. Kain said that in-person learning has been beneficial not only for his students, but also for himself as a teacher.

“I can’t deny, it’s been nice not talking at a screen every day, and having some actual humans in front of you every now and then to talk to,” he said.

Ms. Vermeychuk said that despite her concerns about dividing her attention between students at home and those at school, she has also enjoyed spending time with students and colleagues on campus.

“It’s super fun to be back in school and see people,” Ms. Vermeychuk said. “I’ve really been happy to be back in the classroom with my students.”

Mr. Banks said he feels that “if we can get students in person, I think that’s a good thing.” He acknowledged that there are many different factors contributing to an individual’s comfort level returning to campus, but for “those who can come to school,” he said, “I think that in-person learning is just a much richer experience, a much better educational experience for everybody.”

Mr. Kain said that although his thoughts on the shift to the four-day format have been “all over the place,” he is looking to focus on what he can do to make this the best experience for his students that it can be.

His mindset, he said, has been around “What can I control, what can I actually do?”

“I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it,” Mr. Kain said. “But… that’s really where my headspace has been… how do I make the best of it for my students in my classroom, and virtual classroom included there.”

“At this point, mid-pandemic, we only got so much energy to put towards whatever you can put towards,” he said. “So it’s trying to make the best of whatever situation you’re in.”

Mr. Banks said he is interested to see how both students and staff handle the shift.

“I’m confident that our community is really flexible and interested in being flexible, and I think we have a lot of really phenomenal teachers who will do their best, given the circumstances,” Mr. Banks said. “I know that we have a community that will be able to rise to the occasion, whether it means four days in person or it means going back to full time on Zoom, I know we’ll be able to figure it out.”