The following is an email written by GHS senior Hannah Bolender, published with her permission, which she sent to superintendent Dr. Mutchler, Principal Rogers, and other administrators in the wake of the announcement that we will be going back to school five days per week after spring break.
I (the editor) believe Hannah accurately and respectfully voices the opinions of many students at GHS, who feel our voices have been ignored when making this decision to send us back to school.
Geneva Board of Education, Administration, and whoever else that this may reach:
My name is Hannah Bolender. I’m a senior at Geneva High School. For my four years here at the high school, and even my time at GMSN, I was proud to be a Viking. I took pride in the resources that my district provided for me and all students. I felt that I had a voice. Banners were hung in the library proclaiming our school to be a “Democracy School”. Mental health was approached as a priority and I felt valued as a student with opinions. However, the decision to return to a five-day school week makes me reconsider my previous thoughts.
First and most importantly, I do not feel heard. I feel violated that the opinions of parents, teachers, and administrators were considered, but the students were not questioned. As a soon-to-be adult and active voice in my community, I cannot fathom the reason for this decision. This year high school students were told that they should be responsible for their education. I wholeheartedly agree with this decision. We are old enough to structure a remote day, schedule classes, and apply for college with the tools that we have acquired over our time at Geneva. What I don’t understand, however, is why we are not trusted to make a decision or merely voice our thoughts when it comes to the course of our education.
Beyond that, I feel strongly that returning to a full five-day in-person model of school is not the correct decision moving forward. When I signed up for hybrid school, I agreed that I was comfortable to enter a building with half capacity of students, following all distancing and mask guidelines. Unfortunately, not everybody follows these guidelines. I’ve encountered numerous students and faculty alike with masks below noses, desks less than 6 feet apart, and activities that do not promote safe behaviors given the current climate of the pandemic. Just today in my study hall there was a group of boys with their desks pushed together, masks below their noses. I have brought my concerns to the teachers responsible, who then tell me to mind my own business. While this is beyond infuriating, as my health and safety that is violated by these actions is very much my business, how can we expect to go back to a full capacity school given this behavior?
I understand that many have the perspective that students petitioning simply want to continue sleeping in or don’t want the increase in workload. I am here to tell you that that is not the case. As a 4.0 student, involved volunteer, and concerned member of the student body, I do not waste my remote days. I’m up for my first class and work throughout the day on assignments and further projects. I have established a routine for myself, one that would be disrupted given a new schedule post spring break. Many of my peers have jobs during the day or after school that are disrupted by the sudden change. While one may dismiss this saying that they should not be doing so during the school year, the bottom line is that there has been a routine and precedent set for the past eight months. Routine is crucial to my success and the success of my peers.
Further, the needs of an elementary school are different from the needs of a high school. I am blessed to live in a place where the school can provide laptops and accessible resources for all. I’m grateful that I live in a stable household with parents that support my educational endeavors. I understand, as well, that not everybody is so lucky to have the same resources as myself. The pandemic has interrupted my junior and senior years, and that will forever scar me, yet I have gratitude that I’m not in the first grade, learning crucial social and life skills. Why must we rush the progress of upper education at the same speed as lower grades?
It would be naive of me to say that hybrid is perfect. In fact, there is no perfect solution to education during a pandemic. However, going back to five days a week after spring break is not the correct solution. It is not enough to offer students the option to go full remote, either. I cannot take 4 AP classes on my own while the rest of my class is in school. I do not do well without the direct instruction of a teacher, frankly. Regarding other proposed models, I have yet to see one that truly benefits the student body. Hybrid has worked well enough for 8 months and will continue to serve the students best for the remainder of the year.
I worry, also, for those who truly need to be in school for the full week. I’m grateful that our district has been able to serve those with special needs and IEPs for the year and allow them to attend school for a full five-day week. Would a full capacity building, however, hinder their success if a shutdown ultimately happens?
I urge you to consider what I have illustrated. While I cannot speak for everybody, I can speak for myself. When I received the email from 304 Connects yesterday, I was shocked. Working my way through AP Statistics homework, I found myself unable to go on. The next few hours of my day were full of panic, anxiety, and tears. Still I am panicked, nervous, and anxious for what is to come in the next month. I’m scared of being quarantined, because I’m forced to be within six feet of other students. I worry that I will be quarantined right before an AP test or graduation, simply for being in my school. After a year of disappointments and cancellations, I’m terrified that once again I’m going to be let down. I have not seen friends, worked a real job, or traveled since July, because school is my top priority. I take responsibility for my health, but it now feels that it is out of my control.
The bottom line is that I do not feel safe in a full capacity building. I’m worried about the rise in cases predicted after spring break, just as we saw after Halloween. Though the school cannot control the behavior of students outside of school, it has a responsibility to protect those who follow the rules and protect themselves.
Once fall comes around, and more students and Illinoisans have been vaccinated, the return to school is a different question. In fact, I encourage the return to normalcy when all is safe and logical. That time is not now, however.
Students at Geneva and across the world have endured change in the past year. Frankly, everybody’s lives have been completely changed. What I beg of you now is to not add another variant to the change riddle dear. My recommendation is to continue the hybrid model at the high school and plan a safe and thought-out return for the fall.
I hope that this message means something, and that my words have made an impact, at the least.
Geneva High School Senior