TBT: First Week of School in The Age of The Virus

School is back, and while I’d like to think The Age of The Virus is in its twilight death throes, the powers-that-be seem intent on foisting fearmongering variants upon us, no doubt as a pretext to strip us of more of our civil liberties.

Regardless, we’re starting back normally this year—as normally as possible—with a whopping 408 (and counting) students.  Considering we had fewer than 100 students a decade ago, that’s a pretty huge change.

Hopefully we won’t have any major outbreaks this year, as we largely avoided last school year.  We managed to get through with only a few isolated cases among students and faculty, and finished up with life largely back to normal in the final two months of the year.

It’s interesting looking back to the beginning of last school year and seeing how the year progressed.  The fiasco of using Loom lasted about two weeks for yours portly; I quickly reverted to using the desktop version of Google Meet to record my lectures.

I’m also relieved that I won’t be livestreaming classes anymore.  I don’t have anything to hide; it’s just a huge hassle getting online kids logged in, much less engaged.  There’d frequently be times when I was ten minutes into class and a student would log in after being marked absent; sometimes I wouldn’t catch that the student had entered class, and the student would then complain about the absence.

More frequently, students would log in the moment I’d sent the attendance e-mail to the registrar, so I’d have to resend the e-mail.  Sometimes the registrar wouldn’t see that second e-mail, and I’d get a call in the middle of class asking if the “missing” student had logged into class.

Those were minor issues when compared to bigger problems with the online platform—students suddenly switching to distance learning on test days, for example—but still headaches.  It probably cost a good five-to-ten minutes of class time just to take attendance.

Well, here’s to the normal amount of craziness and bureaucratic overreach of the typical school year.  With that, here is 28 August 2020’s “First Week of School in The Age of The Virus“:

We’ve gotten about one week of school in the books.  So far—as far as I know—there have been no major outbreaks of The Virus among our students or staff.  I noted last Friday that our plethora of new policies were, fortunately, not quite as difficult to implement as I feared.

I wrote at the time that the “real test will be next week—our first full week of school.”  So with one (very long) week in the books, how are we holding up?

So far, so good.  Despite hearing some horror stories from other schools (especially colleges) facing huge outbreaks, we’ve done well.  We’re also one of the first schools in our area to resume classes, as many of the public schools have delayed their starts until the Tuesday after Labor Day.  Indeed, the school district for the county where I reside is starting with two weeks of distance learning before bringing students to campus, a move they announced earlier this week.

We’re also still going forward with athletics.  Our football team has a home scrimmage tonight, and our girl’s volleyball team has been practicing and playing matches.  After months of sitting at home without organized sports, it’s good to see students active again.

There are still, occasionally, some technology glitches.  One afternoon this week, in the middle of an American History lecture, the Internet connection dropped out, killing my livestream.  We’re recording every class period using a program called Loom (we livestream using Google Meet), but it’s proving to be a bug-riddled app at the worst possible times.  Because the livestream disconnected, Loom (apparently) decided to stop recording, and my attempts to record audio-only failed.  Loom is highly sensitive, and if it fails to upload a video on the first attempt, the video is as good as lost.

Fortunately, I had another recording of the same lesson from the other section of American History that covered mostly the same material, but the loss of Internet meant my online student was out of luck until I resolved the issue.  Thursday morning I successfully recorded my Pre-AP Music Appreciation course, only to run into a similar issue—Loom failed to upload the video, and now it’s stuck in a perpetual upload loop.  Again, I’m lucky that my one international student in that class logged in to watch the class live, but I have some classes with students overseas who can’t watch live due to the substantial time difference.  If a recording fails for those classes, then there’s nothing.

These are all relatively minor issues that can be fixed with some troubleshooting (for example, Google Meet on an iPad won’t let you record your livestream, but that functionality is still available if you’re logged in on a computer).  Sure, there’s some fussing about with iPads at the start of class, which can be a bit awkward, especially trying to fit them into their holders (which seem designed to make it as difficult as possible to mount an iPad safely), but the students don’t seem to mind another couple of minutes to chat with their friends.

The big question now is how sustainable our current model is.  We’ve made it through one full school week and a couple of days—not to mention a week of registration and teacher’s meetings—without any major incidences.  How long can that last?  The longer we have 350 people on campus everyday, the likelier it becomes someone will bring The Virus with them.  Masks, one-way hallways, and increased sanitation can’t forestall it forever.

I’m not writing that from a place of fear—it’s just a question we have to be prepared to answer.  Fortunately, my school has worked proactively to be prepared for the worst.  In the meantime, we’re all praying that we can continue with as much normalcy as possible.


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