COVER YOUR NOSE: English teacher John Waite plays a video for his AP English Literature and Composition class about the importance of proper mask-wearing. (Nicholas Hanscom)
COVER YOUR NOSE: English teacher John Waite plays a video for his AP English Literature and Composition class about the importance of proper mask-wearing.

Nicholas Hanscom

Students, staff collaborate to sustain in-person learning

February 9, 2022

According to District 99’s student COVID-19 data, January saw a total of 434 new COVID-19 cases among students—which accounts for roughly 79 percent of all student COVID-19 cases during the 2021-2022 school year thus far. 

Consequently, the district is taking multiple measures this semester to keep its doors open for in-person instruction. DGN is using additional substitutes to cover absent teachers’ classes, and numerous staff members are more strictly enforcing proper mask-wearing.

“I think we’re working very, very hard to stay in person,” Principal Dr. Courtney DeMent said. “We will go to every length to make sure that we don’t have to get in a situation where we’re not going to be in school [and] we are exhausting every possibility before we have to make that decision.”


Power of the Present

While some students and staff members have highlighted their preference for remote learning, for others, the benefits and value of being in-person are what drive DGN’s efforts to keep the building open.

“Last year, we had to pivot and go to online learning. While that was necessary at the time, I think the long-term effects of that have not been great for every student,” DeMent said. “It’s really important for kids to be here socially. For many kids, that extracurricular piece is a huge reason why [they] are here at school and why they’re successful at school. To take them out of that is mentally, physically difficult.”

For some students, in-person learning enhances their academic performance by making them more productive and invoking a sense of motivation and structure.

“In-person learning keeps students engaged, provides a proper learning environment and keeps students on track,” Cutrone said. “In my experience, in-person learning is definitely way better for me because I am more productive not at home but in a school setting. Having a schedule really helps me as well. With remote learning, I had no motivation to do school and it felt optional.”

A Layered Effort

With the significance of in-person instruction in mind, DGN is going to multiple lengths to avoid the return of a life filled with empty screens and breakout room stare-downs.

One such method is the school’s use of more substitutes. As many as 30 teachers were absent at one time last month, and according to Associate Principal for Staff and Students Kelly Zuerner and staff schedules, 104 classes needed coverage Jan 7. Because of such teacher absences, everyone from administrators to members of the district office has covered classes.

Associate Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Ryan Doherty, for example, substituted for a few English classes in the first couple of weeks of the semester. 

“As someone who taught all levels of 9th-12th grade English for 15 years, [substituting] felt great—I wish I could have taught more. As instructional leaders in the district, it [is] important for all of us to do our part to make sure that our students [have] the opportunity to remain in school for in-person instruction,” Doherty said.

Another method DGN is undertaking to maintain in-person learning is reinforcing proper mask-wearing—and there are multiple ways staff members have done this. For instance, DeMent created a video a couple of weeks ago in which she underscored the importance of everyone wearing their masks over their nose. She also distributed café gift cards to some students who had done so correctly. 

Many teachers have also promoted proper mask-wearing in their classrooms. English teacher John Waite, for example, showed his classes another video that explains how people not wearing their masks over their noses defeats the purpose of the mask. He also instructs students to cover their noses if they do not do so.

If you don’t have your nose covered, then it’s been to my understanding that the mask is useless. So, I try to tell students that if they don’t have an appropriate mask that is comfortable, I can help them find a mask,” Waite said. “You shouldn’t have trouble keeping the mask up. But I will do it every time I see your nose.


In This Together

While DGN has done multiple things to keep remote learning in the past, DeMent noted how the push against the pandemic is a collective effort. With that in mind, she gave a few pointers to encourage students and staff to continue to do their part in keeping COVID-19 and E-learning at bay.

Be cautious and be careful. While you may not be compromised or you personally may not be worried about catching COVID-19, other people are. And so just to be cognizant of those around you and that they may have different feelings about it,” Dement said. “Do [your] part, wear [your] masks [and] try to stay socially distant if possible.”


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