Hybrid supports what educators have speculated

Kris Long, Sports Editor

Every other Wednesday, during the citizen comments section of the USD 383 School Board Meeting, at least one parent, student or teacher gives an impassioned plea on behalf of the student body to go back to school five days a week. 

They worry that students aren’t getting enough help from their teachers, are missing valuable time with their peers and are falling behind in their education. But, at the high school level, there is a wide range of success found in hybrid. Some students are doing better in hybrid than in five day weeks, others are failing. This shows the variance in learning styles that haven’t been addressed in public schooling.

In a survey The Mentor conducted of 609 high school students, a plurality (31%) said that their current grades reflect their usual performance “somewhat well.” The majority (67%) were in the range of “neutral” to “extremely well.” This suggests that, while a significant part of the student body is struggling in hybrid, many are able to keep up while at home. 

Likewise, students in the survey were split when asked if working at their own pace bettered their educational experience. Of those surveyed, 37% said yes, 36% said no and 27% said they weren’t sure. Meanwhile, 40% of students said they were struggling with the lack of structure, but the other 60% said they either already had, or have learned time-management skills in hybrid. 54% said they had learned to teach themselves in hybrid, 46% hadn’t. When asked to rate on a Liker scale (1-5) how hybrid had impacted their social-emotional well-being, the average score was 2.82. The student population is evenly distributed between the drawbacks that have been brought up repeatedly about hybrid and the benefits. 

High school students are all at different stages of development, meaning they’re able to handle different levels of independence. While some aren’t ready to handle their work load on their own, others are benefiting from hybrid.

“Not everybody is at the same stage,” Elaine Johannes, associate professor and an extension specialist in youth development in the Department of Applied human sciences, said. “So let’s say you’re pretty self-sufficient, you can study by yourself, you’re self-directed, you’re getting business done and you’re feeling very accomplished. That’s an identity and… you’re picking up on affirming identities when somebody says ‘you’re accomplishing, you’re getting it done, good for you.’ But on the other hand, some people may not have that reinforcement, and so they may feel lost, and they may feel ill equipped and they may not have a clue about what the next thing they’re doing.”

One of the biggest factors determining development is age. This was corroborated in the Mentor’s survey, where 53% of freshmen reported needing more guidance than they are getting from their teachers, compared to 43% of seniors, suggesting that older students are better prepared for hybrid.

“That 14 year old is going to be developing differently than [the 16 year old] and the 18 year old,” Johannes said. “And so their takeaways from this experience will be different.”

Teachers have been observing the different responses students have regarding levels of independence. Students, too, observe the different learning styles of their peers. 

“I hate Canvas, and I am a people person, but everything is online even though we’re in person,” senior Payton Mills said. “ All we do is talk about how to do things at home and it’s frustrating. Also we only get 90 mins of instruction a week. Even in college you’ll get at least 180.”

Regardless of what is the best approach for academics, another concern is the lack of social interaction between students in hybrid. Many of the students’ responses to The Mentor’s survey reported that they were less motivated to do their work without peers around them. 

“Not being able to see friends has an effect on [my education] too,” sophomore Aiden Bailey said. “Because you look forward to school because you can see your friends, [and] now you can’t as much.”

But, this isn’t true for all students. Some enjoy the time alone, and find being around others constantly tiring. Also, whether or not students are around friends at school is somewhat luck-of-the-draw. They could end up in classes and lunch hours with lots of positive peers, but could also be spending time with classmates who they don’t know or who have a negative impact on them.

“[Hybrid] is different,” Johannes said. “It is stressful, but so was the stress of going to school, and maybe not having access to support, or maybe being bullied in school, or maybe not being able to learn in a highly concentrated, highly populated environment.”

The five-day week, seven-hour days isn’t the only possible approach to education. In other countries, students spend different amounts of time at school. In Germany, the school day starts between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. and can end between noon and 1:30 p.m, leaving students with the rest of the day to work independently. China goes the opposite direction, with nine and a half hours of school per day and a two-hour lunch break. Most secondary schools in Europe don’t have the same classes every day. Instead, foreign language classes and math might be daily, and English, science and history two or three times a week. In the UK, at sixteen, students choose if they want to enter a sixth form college or to continue their education more similar to high school in A levels. 

Hybrid is causing many kids who benefited from the structure of the traditional American high school to struggle, showing that for many students the system was effective. But for another part of the population, it’s a chance to engage in the self-directed learning they are best suited to. 

“What we’re observing and attuned to is that education and learning happens in different ways,” Johannes said. “And the question is: ‘how can we, as an education system in the United States, adjust to that?’ So it’s not all one-size-fits-all, and not all cookie cutter.”