Tenafly High School Resumes In-Person Learning


Jacqueline Kim, Staff Writer

On September 29, Tenafly High School reopened its doors, adopting a hybrid schedule that enables students to learn both on school grounds as well as in the security of their own homes. 

Over the last few months, administrators and faculty members have worked to devise a plan that accommodates the values of student education and the safety of the local community. However, many decisions have sparked controversy and debate, while students and faculty members remain uncertain of what’s to be expected for the coming year. 

District administrators sent an email out to students and parents in late August, including a summary of the Phase-One plan for the reopening of schools. However, since the initial rundown was released, many alterations have been made to better suit the current conditions of the pandemic. While the essence of the original plan, assuming a hybrid schedule, has been preserved, the date for the reopening of the high school was delayed multiple weeks in order to overcome staffing delays.

State regulations mandate the use of masks and face coverings for both students and staff at all times while in the building, and students and staff must complete a questionnaire before returning to school grounds. Before entering the building, students are required to take a temperature check, and are to report directly to their first period to avoid crowding in hallways. Within the classrooms, rows of desks have been distanced six feet apart, and most also have individual plastic shields to better protect students. Between classes, teachers are to spray down and disinfect desks, while the school will assume a more thorough cleaning overnight in preparation for the next cohort. The school has replaced the air conditioning and heating vent filters as well as classroom and hallway fans in order to promote proper ventilation. Outside the classrooms, multiple adaptations have been made in order to keep students safe and healthy. Tape will divide the hallways down the middle in order to regulate traffic, and students are encouraged to stay to the right when passing. 

Concerning academics and learning, the administration has worked to best address every circumstance and individual. Hybrid-scheduled students will physically attend their classes every other day, and will partake in virtual learning for the remaining days of the week excluding Mondays, which have been designated as virtual E-days for all students. Students who have opted for full-virtual instruction will attend these same classes virtually over Zoom or Google Meet. In addition, there are some teachers who plan to teach virtually due to medical or personal conditions. These courses will proceed with students entering classrooms designated for virtual-teachers in the main gym, and each student will observe the class through his or her own personal Chromebook or computer while being supervised by a staff member. 

The delay in resuming physical learning has offered many students a taste of what virtual-learning would essentially look like, as classes commenced over Zoom. Classes began with full school days that required students to sit through eight hours of Zoom classes. Students and even parents were quick to speak up against the demanding schedule, which many claimed was “counterproductive” and “cruel.” In fact, Maia Dimant (’21) and Joey Zorn (’21) took initiative in expressing such claims, developing polls and petitions that reflected the negative responses to the full day schedule of the greater student body. “After four to five hours, one becomes fatigued and is not able to take in more information,” Zorn said. “So a virtual school day that is longer than four to five hours is a complete waste of time.” Multiple other students have since expressed their frustrations with the excessive time spent on Zoom calls and technology. The virtual environment, which has also definitely taken a toll on students and their learning capability, can not come close to the intimacy and interaction of physical schooling. “The environment feels incredibly down, as everyone is stuck sitting in one place with one brief break—lunch—during a 6-hour period,” Ryan Kim (’23) said. “I find myself constantly preoccupied by music, my friends, and other distractions because of this, as the teachers themselves might not be boring, but the monotony and length really take a toll on … everyone’s focus.”

Despite the benefits of virtual learning, such as the comforts of staying home and the luxuries of sleeping in, many students have come to miss the unique dynamics and environments of in-person schooling. “You would think that, because we still have classes, there wouldn’t be much of a difference,” Michelle Lee (’21) said. “However, the high school experience is about the chatter in the hallways, rushing to your locker every couple of hours, and avoiding eye contact with your teacher when they are looking for someone to call on.” This unique situation has driven students to recognize many blessings they had misread as givens, while gaining more appreciation for the potentials of resuming in-person schooling, although the dynamic will definitely be different. 

“I think we can expect students and staff to be very happy to be in-person,” Principal Jim Morrison said. “Even though it’s not the in-person that we had before COVID-19, it’s still going to be worth all this effort that we’ve put in to get kids in school in some form, which is very important, not just for education, but … for social and emotional development and health. And, the best part about high school is, it’s supposed to be fun. And it’s very hard to be having fun in the virtual world. You need to be here, and you need to be around other people, especially your classmates, to have fun.”

With this goal in mind, the school will reopen on the 29, masks, protocols, and all. Despite all the uncertainties and the underlying dissensions, students and faculty will finally be able to return to school, slowly transitioning back to their familiar pre-COVID lives.  “My theme all along has just been that everybody has to just do their best, and be patient and be flexible,” Morrison said. “Tenafly takes a lot of pride in our academic rigor. And we’re doing a great job with trying to recreate what we always were able to provide. But it can’t be the same. And we have to accept that, and just do the best we can… So, hey, we’re gonna have some hiccups, there’s gonna be some bumps in the road, but we’ll figure it out. We’ll make it work.”