Students’ Opinions Split on Return to School


Amanda Taddeo

Samantha Thompson, left, and Isabella Calvano converse about making college decisions in study hall Jan. 21, two days after all students were allowed to return to in-person school for the first time since March 10, 2020.

Amanda Taddeo and Lauralee Pelletier

WOODBURY — After two months of distance learning, Nonnewaug High School students and staff made their way back into the classroom once again Jan. 19. But with interaction comes many regulations — each classroom must be equipped with Plexiglass separators, socially distanced workspaces, and students and staff must be masked.

Many hope all these precautions will be enough to keep them and their loved ones safe. Students were faced with having to make the decision of whether they would return to school fully or continue online learning with these new modifications. Although COVID-19 has put a damper on many students’ in-person school experience, there are still some that are optimistic about the return.

“As an agricultural student, in-person learning is very valuable to me,” said senior ag student Marissa Uva, who rejoined in-person learning. “[Gaining] hands-on experience and learning more about my future career in agriculture is significantly more beneficial to me as a student during my senior year. Also, in-person interaction with my peers and teachers is how I learn the best over learning on a computer screen.”

“Online school has caused me to lack motivation at times,” said junior Brianna Hynds. “When I am unmotivated, it is really difficult to concentrate and do my work. I made the decision to come back to school fully because I learn better in person and I would like to have a spring season to play softball since I have only been able to play softball my freshman year.”

Most Nonnewaug students headed back into school Jan. 19, the first time the school had been open for full in-person learning since March 10, 2020.

In-person school will be conducted Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays with a shortened schedule from 7:25 a.m. until 12:20 p.m. Wednesdays will remain all-remote, allowing remote-only learners to virtually engage better with their classmates.

The return includes grab-and-go breakfast and lunch at the end of the school day. This idea was created to alleviate the issue of crowded lunchrooms and subsequent mask removal.

Going into school it comes with a lot of benefits for many students, but this is not a reflection of how all Nonnewaug students feel about returning for in-person learning.

“If I had been given a choice, I would have chosen distance learning,” said senior Emily Betkoski, who also rejoined in-person learning. “I personally feel that it is not safe to return fully in person right now with the number of COVID-19 cases in Connecticut.”

Some students don’t think it is the best idea to go back fully. After all, the state’s acting public health commissioner, Deidre Gifford, told NBC Connecticut earlier this month: “Here in the first week of January, we have seen an increased number of cases and our test positivity rate is going up as well. We are concerned.”

Many students are taking COVID-19 seriously and they are cautionary about their safety as well as the safety of their families.

“I do not think that we should go back to school,” said junior Sabrina DeSorbo, who rejoined in-person learning. “I think it is being rushed, and I realize that remote learning is strenuous on parents and families in general, however it is safe and protects those families from having to deal with a loss. We left school in November last year because of a shortage of teachers, and I know and understand that we do have them now. However, cases have increased dramatically over the holiday and I don’t feel that having us fully in person is the best thing. The cohorts at least provide some sort of fall back if a student or faculty member gets COVID; with full in-person [learning] it will be nearly impossible to contact trace appropriately.”

“I don’t really feel safe going to school again,” said senior Isabella Calvano, who also returned to in-person learning. “There will be a lot of people in the same vicinity and I’ve noticed that COVID numbers have been increasing. Also, I have developed health anxiety through this pandemic.”

A substantial number of students — more than 100 — will continue all-online learning for the foreseeable future.

In superintendent Joseph Olzacki’s letter to parents, he noted that school officials “never stop thinking about the best interest of our students and their families.” Although many may be uneasy about the idea of returning to schooling in person, Olzacki also wanted families to “rest assured that all of our buildings are clean and ready for the arrival of our students.”

Still, a generous number of students and their families understandably have their doubts.

“I think the school is doing the best it can, but I also think with the high amount of students it’s nearly impossible for them to enforce rules on everyone, and there are going to be people who do not follow what rules are put into place, and that scares me,” said senior Caitlyn Clow, who opted to remain a remote learner. “Cases are at an all-time high; I really do not feel comfortable being in a building with that many people right now. I would love to return for my senior year, however I really don’t know if I will even feel safe enough by June.”

“I personally am not really a fan of the school’s plan at the moment,” said freshman Sierra Kovaleski, who also chose to remain at home. “I do understand that in-person schooling is more beneficial for some students, but cases are extremely high right now and I do not think it is a good idea to return to school in person for the time being.”

It is a mystery when cases of COVID-19 will eventually go down and all students will be able to securely return to school. Yet with how the past two school years have played out, some are predicting the future of the rest of this school year.

“I personally think that fully remote learning will become mandatory again at some point,” Betkoski said. “I am hoping we can return to hybrid or even fully in-person eventually, but it is best if it is at a safer time to do so, in my opinion, that time is not now.”

Region 14 has stated that schools will do the right thing and continue to follow through with accommodating the COVID guidelines, but the school can only do so much. The only thing students and staff can do is try to keep each other safe, whether that means following COVID-19 safety regulations in the school or staying at home.