Summit students return to classroom after nearly 7 weeks at home |

Summit students return to classroom after nearly 7 weeks at home

Summit High School, pictured at the beginning of the closure of in-person learning in April, had some students return to in-person learning Monday for the first time since Thanksgiving.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

Ten months into the novel coronavirus pandemic, public and private school students across Summit County returned to the classroom Monday, Jan. 11, for the first time since before Thanksgiving.

Two of the students to return this week are the children of Wendy Leonardi, who said she is eager for her children to return to the classroom, namely her son, who is a senior at Summit High School.

“These kids are missing out on a full year of school, and this hybrid (learning) is really, really taking them down,” Leonardi said. “It is mentally challenging for them.”

While she said the hybrid learning hasn’t affected her fifth-grade daughter as much, Leonardi said her son and his friends have “struggled tremendously.” Though she thinks the school district is “trying their hardest” and many teachers are “overwhelmed” by the hybrid education system, Leonardi has lingering concerns about how a second straight school year upended by COVID-19 affects students — especially the 2021 senior class.

Leonardi said her son and his friends responded to fully remote learning over the past two months by working jobs — two in her son’s case — and largely disengaging from school, spending little time on and paying scant attention to school video calls.

“They don’t have any motivation to do the work,” Leonardi said. “Because parents are all working, they’re sitting around all day with nothing to do, and all of my son’s friends have said the same thing, they do the same thing: They get on Zoom and then go back to bed until 1 or 2 in the afternoon before getting up and doing a little bit of work. The last three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, they were all falling behind. They spent the entire break catching up to get their classwork done.”

On Monday, Summit School District students at the preschool and elementary school levels, plus Snowy Peaks, returned to the classroom four days a week. Middle and high school students have returned to the classroom for two days a week. Students’ education continues remotely online when not in the classroom.

The district made the decision to go to remote learning on Nov. 30 after Thanksgiving break because new cases of the novel coronavirus had reached an all-time peak in Summit County and the district was experiencing a large number of quarantines.

District spokesperson Mikki Grebetz said in a news release Thursday that “data indicates that our decision to implement an online learning model was a successful measure to support the slowing of the skyrocketing COVID cases seen in the community in November.”

Leonardi, Toby Babich and Allison Tomhave are three local parents who wonder if the decision to implement a fully online learning model hurt their children more than it helped them.

Babich — the father of high school, middle school and elementary school students — said he’s found the effectiveness of remote and hybrid learning varies by the child’s personality type. Unlike Leonardi, Babich said his middle child has struggled the most with school amid COVID-19 shutdowns while his youngest and oldest have fared better. Babich was adamant that schools should not be shut down for any reason moving forward.

“I understand why it’s been done,” Babich said. “I understand they are trying to protect people. But when we talk about the health of a person, there’s many factors in that, not just COVID. I’m worried as a parent (about) the long-term impact of this year for kids.”

Tomhave said her eighth-grade son, who will return to in-person learning Tuesday, Jan. 12, told her that he can’t wait to get back to school. Asking a child to “stare at a screen from 8:20 a.m. to 3 p.m. is asking a lot in patience,” she said. While she appreciates everything the school has done to keep students and staff safe from the virus, she said she wonders if that’s what’s best for kids.

“Maybe not,” she said. “Because kids need … to be around people. They need interaction not only with their core group but with the teachers, as well. It’s just not the same.”

The Peak School and its 75 students also returned to in-person learning Monday. Head of School Travis Aldrich said students returned to five days a week of in-person instruction, which the school also conducted through mid-November before choosing to start a remote period a week before Thanksgiving due to the county’s COVID-19 numbers.

Aldrich said much, much smaller student and staff numbers compared with the public schools — plus an emphasis on outdoor classes — have allowed the school to offer in-person learning five days a week.

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