By Emily Shen (V)
In early November, as the number of COVID-19 cases continued to spike in New Jersey and across the country, members of the Pingry community wondered whether the school would transition to fully remote learning. And it did. On November 13, Head of School Matt Levinson sent out an email to the Pingry community addressing the operational status of the Basking Ridge Campus. From that date through the week after Thanksgiving break, the Middle and Upper Schools would transition to all-online instruction. According to Mr. Levinson, this was a difficult decision based on numerous factors, including case numbers at Basking Ridge and concerns about travel during the holiday season.
Many members of the Pingry community expressed a lack of surprise by the School’s decision. Leila Elayan (V) was expecting Pingry’s decision to shift to remote learning the week before Thanksgiving due to “the steady increase in cases in the area and nationally.” Moreover, the increasing number of students who were contact-traced was another salient indication of the impending shutdown. According to Lailah Berry (V), “a lot of students and staff were contact-traced after Halloween, so going fully remote seemed like a necessary precaution,” especially with the prospect of folks visiting family over Thanksgiving break.
Last spring, Pingry transitioned to remote learning for almost a whole semester, but for many, the remote experience feels different this year. Teachers spent a lot of effort over the summer experimenting with remote learning and are now much more prepared. When asked about her classes as compared to those back in March, Sarah Gagliardi (V) said, “I think since then we’ve managed to fully adapt to the idea of learning and working remotely, because, this school year, the idea of being fully remote is not as new or surprising as it was last spring.” She continued that “because this is not the first time we’ve gone completely virtual, it has given the Pingry community more time to prepare and work out the flaws in the process.”
Although the community is more prepared this academic year, some students still find remote learning to be exhausting. As teachers assign roughly the same workload they would if students were in school, students find screen time to be one of the biggest challenges of remote learning. “Remote learning is still exhausting,” agreed Sam Wexler (V). “I spend around ten hours on my laptop pretty much every day, partially because of classes, but also because nearly all my work is online.” However, given the nature of remote learning, there isn’t a lot that the teachers can do to improve screen time exhaustion. Most teachers have adhered to the “45-minute synchronous class” rule, but asynchronous work can still get overwhelming since most materials are still online. “I would rather we just have class for the full hour and five minutes, as whatever asynchronous activity we do is always on the computer anyway,” said Kristin Osika (V).
In this era of uncertainty, members of the community have learned to appreciate the time they spend together in person. Many students who experienced both remote and in-person learning actually preferred classes to be fully remote rather than a hybrid model. “I much prefer it when everyone is home instead of the hybrid. I like it when everyone is pretty much on the same page and I don’t have to fear missing out,” said Elayan. Christine Guo (V) agreed, adding, “it was difficult to participate in class since half of us were in person and the other half were not. Once more of the class became remote, it wasn’t a problem.” Despite this, most students still hope to be together in-person again. Emma Drzala expressed that “in-person was definitely a better learning experience. Teachers could carry out more activities, especially in STEM classes.”
When discussing Pingry’s reopening plan after Thanksgiving, many were cautiously optimistic. Although the school has done everything it can to take health precautions, other factors, such as national COVID-19 case numbers and local guidelines, may affect the plan moving forward. However, although students and faculties could not all be in person, Pingry is still holding on. With the holiday season coming up, it is important to appreciate the efforts and progress that everyone is making. Stay connected and stay safe.