Illini Bluffs High School
Autumn Gray, 10th Grade Student
A Student’s Perspective of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Like most teenagers, I heard COVID-19 talked about prior to school being shut down last March, so I was not surprised when Governor Pritzker called for school closures. Our teachers suggested that we bring all necessary items from our lockers home, as no one knew for sure how long we would be shut down. With agility, the teachers pivoted to online teaching within a couple of days and a new norm was established.
Our Superintendent, Dr. Alvey, was keeping the students and parents informed with timely communication right from the start. I am sure there was some degree of chaos within the school district, but we did not see it. This is not out of character for Dr. Alvey as he has always represented a strong and calm presence in our school through everyday items, such as sporting events, and through changes that have come over the years as the schools increased safety precautions due to school shootings in other parts of the country. Although this pandemic surely brought new challenges and complexities to his role, there was a level of confidence he had already earned with parents and students that undoubtedly eased our transition into this unknown.
The school year finished quietly, with minimal impact. As junior high and high school students, my siblings and I stayed on top of our homework, which came in the form of daily emails and occasional zoom meetings. The teachers continued to check in and my Principal would send out candid videos, keeping us informed and showing that he cared. He is well liked and respected in the school so the videos were well received by the high school student body.
My mom’s company had also sent their employees home, so my siblings and I woke up, joined her at the island, and did our work for the day. We all learned a lot about mom’s job, as we had to stay quiet when she was on calls, which she took on speaker phone. My brothers would disappear outside as soon as they finished their homework for the day, but I chose to stay at the counter and read or play video games until she finished her day. I enjoyed hearing her interact with her boss, coworkers, and employees and would occasionally get a shout out from one of them.
The Administration at IB made the decision to save the last two weeks of the school year for make-up work, so since my siblings and I had stayed up to speed, our school year wrapped up easy. My family didn’t think too much about COVID because we live in a rural setting, so it was easy to self-isolate and still be entertained. Church was now online and Dad would bring home the occasional take-out as a surprise. Other than that, we gloved up and went to town for groceries about once a week.
As the summer progressed, self-isolation turned into socially distancing, and we started having outdoor visits with grandparents, and outdoor church services. Dr. Alvey kept parents informed on decisions underway for the upcoming school year and sent a survey to parents to inquire about in person or online schooling preferences. He included in the email a preview of in person COVID precautions, which included wearing masks. My parents asked us what we preferred as we had the support system in place to do either. Since the prior online learning had gone well and we weren’t looking forward to wearing masks, we voted to stay remote.
A few weeks later, my parents informed us that they’d received another update from Dr. Alvey saying the far majority of parents chose in person learning, so plans were underway to facilitate that course of action. My parents noted that in his email, as well as the next email, Dr. Alvey took time to show compassion for the variety of opinions represented by parents, as well as their fears and concerns. He thanked the parents for the concern that had been shown to him and the school district as they’d been working to navigate the uncertain waters. He also shared his perspective as a parent of students and as a spouse of a person working in the school district. This served to reinforce that he understood the various levels of risk and that the school was making careful preparations to mitigate exposure. My parents felt the IB Administration was utilizing the parent perspective to the best of their ability, especially in comparison to what we were hearing from parents in other school districts and on social media. Although this was not what we had chosen on the survey, we were content with majority rule and prepared to be in masks.
To our surprise, the next communication from the school allowed parents to choose if we wanted in person or online learning. We had expected the school to require all students to do the same, to simplify for teachers, so we viewed it as generous that they were allowing both options. We chose in person this time, as my parents felt that if in person was offered, it was the best environment for learning. I am ranked number one in my class, so I also recognized the importance of building a rapport with each teacher and class participation in the grading process. Plus, if sports were going to be offered, we wanted to be eligible to participate.
There continued to be communications preparing parents for the first day and a welcome back video or communication from each Principal for students. To allow for social distancing on busses, a percentage of students had to be moved to parent drop off. This increase of car riders may have been what caused a bit of a bottleneck on the main road, leading to the grade school, the first day of school. By day two, the issue was resolved as we assumed the school changed their process of drop off to accommodate the extra car riders.
Other changes for students included lunches that could be thrown away, self certification online that students are healthy, and temperature checks when walking in the door. All that seemed to go fine and is now routine. Of course, the masks are a pain, but students seem to be handling them very well. Most of the teachers try to make the best of the situation by taking us outside for mask breaks so we can get a breath of fresh air and see everyone’s faces. We had a new teacher join us in the high school this year. After a few weeks in, he took us outside for the first time. When we took our masks off, he teased us that we were all much uglier than he expected. This cracked everyone up and is representative of the light-hearted tone set by the school.
It is no secret that this year was going to be a bit different and challenging, but I feel the district has done a wonderful job trying to keep its families happy and healthy. It appears to be going well as the continued updates from the superintendent report better than expected flexibility from parents, compliance from students, and overall outcome, now three months into the school year. There is not another school in the Peoria area I would rather be at during this crisis.
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