“A crisis is both a danger and an opportunity.”

~Grace Lee Boggs, quoting her father

As our community decides how we will live with the coronavirus over the coming year, we would like to encourage the Ithaca City School District to see the current crisis as an opportunity to rethink high school.? We understand the District’s reasons for offering a five-day-per-week option for schooling younger children, but we question whether high-schoolers need to be in the school building for six hours per day, five days per week, with their time fragmented by class schedules.? We believe that this crisis offers us a chance to reconsider school structures and learning activities and to experiment with new ideas that might carry over in the long term.

In the “Reopen ICSD” presentations this summer, ICSD administrators talked about project-based and hands-on learning.? A hybrid model for instruction, with in-person school only meeting two or three days per week, could move us beyond simply paying lip service to these ideas to a school day structure that actually supports them.? If school met only two or three days per week, with minimal mandatory group screen time on the other days, students could learn to pace themselves and organize their own time.? They could take on larger projects and break them down into manageable pieces, set weekly goals, and check in with a teacher, coach, or mentor for accountability, guidance, and resources.? In-class time would be a valuable resource to be used for activities that require conversation and collaboration.? On “off” days, IHS could offer enrichment opportunities and extra support for smaller groups of students.? Students could have extended time in art studios, shops, or musicrehearsals.? The school could offer workspaces with internet access and the cafeteria could provide meals.? Small groups could meet with teachers for content support or special education services.? Each of these options could happen while minimizing all students' exposure to unnecessarily large groups of people.? As our community inches back to normalcy, a less restrictive school week would allow time for students to take on internships or apprenticeships during the work day, thereby engaging in authentic hands-on learning.

Our current five-day school week structure, even with IHS’s new block schedule, is inefficient, antiquated, and insufficient to prepare students for what will be expected of them wherever they go after high school.? In a hybrid model, teachers could coach students to develop the autonomy and self-regulation that will be required of them in a modern workplace or in college.

We still have much to learn about how the covid-19 virus behaves, but what we do know is that proximity, length of exposure, and ventilation all are important factors in controlling its spread.? Fewer hours in the IHS school buildings this year would keep students, teachers, their families, and our community safer from a potential virus outbreak, and also offer an opportunity to re-think what high school in the 21st century could be.? We urge the district leadership and the IHS administration to reconsider the in-person option for this fall and offer a safer, more moderate option.

-Christina Mead, Tonya Bittner, Lazarra Leonard, Mary and David Beer

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