What It’s Like Being a Hybrid, Virtual or In-Person Student During the Pandemic

When last we checked in with our youngest Saratoga Living contributor, 11-year-old Jameson Dalpe, a seventh grader at Albany’s Christian Brothers Academy (CBA), he shared with us a powerful essay he’d written about what it was like grappling with a new hybrid learning schedule during the pandemic, and how it had affected him academically and personally. (Spoiler Alert: He ended up transferring from the Burnt Hills–Ballston Lake school district to CBA, so he could take in-person classes.)

Dalpe had penned his essay last spring, near the beginning of the pandemic, comparing COVID to a snowstorm and hoping that a “rainbow” would eventually appear at the end of it all. And while that hasn’t quite happened yet, Dalpe has continued to think critically about his lot in life—and wanted to learn what students, just like him, across the Capital Region thought about education in the time of COVID.

So Dalpe put on his journalist cap and interviewed students from a number of local school districts about their current and preferred education plans, styles and methods. In his latest essay, entitled “Hope for a Boring Year,” he get some answers.

Humans are always craving more adventure and excitement. So last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, swiftly infecting the world; Australian wildfires blazed, half a world away, with more brutality than ever before; and the stock market fell flat on its face, mankind naturally should have been more excited. Instead, humans were terrified to discover that they were dealing with multiple crises at once, something that had not happened since 2008. In Saratoga County, schools were greatly affected by COVID-19 and desperately scrambled to find safer, alternative learning plans to continue teaching their students. The plans included in-person, hybrid and virtual schooling.

I believe that it’s better to learn in-person than virtually, because you are less able to be distracted, you get to see and communicate with your friends and you get to be a bigger and better part of the school community. For example, since in-person schooling does not require you to use electronics as much as virtual schooling, your mind is less likely to wander, which means that you have a better chance of completing more schoolwork and homework. Furthermore, according to the Mayo Clinic, “being able to see and communicate with your friends increases your sense of belonging and purpose, boosts your happiness and reduces your stress and improves your self-confidence and self-worth,” making it easier to learn, complete schoolwork and homework. If your current learning plan is in person, as opposed to virtual, you also get to be a bigger part of what makes a school a school; by seeing teachers in person, you create more long-lasting friendships and donate more to school charities.

But, of course, this is my opinion; I wanted to interview some students from different places to provide you with more of an impartial answer. I interviewed two students from the Shenendehowa Central School District, four from the Burnt Hills–Ballston Lake Central School District and four from my own school, CBA, in Albany, asking them what their favorite learning format was—in-person, hybrid or virtual—and why they felt that way.

Not surprisingly, when I first asked students what their favorite of the three learning plans would be in a pre-pandemic world, every interviewee said that his or hers was in-person. But then I asked the students what their favorite format had been during the pandemic, and their responses amazed me: I did not expect to get many of the answers I did. Both of the students from Shen agreed with my premise, answering that in-person was the best learning plan. “I prefer in-person, because it makes things much more authentic,” said Shen student Bryan Sun. “‘Authentic,’ as in, instead of just staying home, looking at assignments and doing them. I get to fully immerse myself in the learning experience; I get to talk to teachers, friends and be a part of the school community.” For Shen student Jonathan Chamberlain, it was all about the opportunity to interact with others: “I prefer in-person, because I like talking to my teachers and classmates. It’s a lot harder to learn the same with teachers teaching at home. In-person is definitely the way to go.”

When I interviewed students at Burnt Hills–Ballston Lake, however, half of the interviewees said they preferred hybrid learning over in-person, something that caught me off guard. “I prefer hybrid, because you get to stay safe and take a break from people for two days,” said student Caden Flores. “Then, you go to school. It is exciting and there is never a dull moment.” Fellow student Jakob Brucker agreed: “I would probably choose hybrid, because you still get to see your teachers and friends. Also, there wouldn’t be as many technical problems in a hybrid learning plan than a virtual learning plan, because there’s no lag in real life.” Classmate Noah Jacobsen, on the other hand, decided that in-person was the best type of learning plan. “I feel like in-person is so much more fun than virtual,” he said. “In virtual schooling, the teacher can’t pass [you] your assignments. So, you won’t be experiencing as many hands-on projects in virtual schooling compared to in-person schooling.” Conversely, fellow student Zac Veteramo chose virtual over in-person or hybrid. Simply put, Veteramo said that virtual learning had everything to do with his health: “It lessens the chances of getting infected by COVID-19 compared to an in-person learning plan.”

Finally, when I interviewed students at my own school, I was shocked to learn that three of my four classmates believed that hybrid was the best learning model. “I prefer hybrid,” said Thomas Campbell, “because you can receive the best from both worlds: It combines the benefits of virtual and in-person, and in these times, we should definitely stay safe, which isn’t new news.” Campbell’s classmate, Brody Bashford, concurred: “I would choose hybrid as the best learning plan. It not only lets students get involved in the learning process, but also keeps them sufficiently safe from COVID-19.” And classmate Kieran Brown also agreed, echoing Burnt Hills–Ballston Lake’s Veteramo in regards to the health factor: “I would definitely pick hybrid as the best learning plan, because we get to see our friends and teachers in-person, while also being safe from COVID-19 in virtual schooling.” The only student I interviewed with a different opinion was Matthew Daws, who said he favored in-person (like I do), explaining that “in-person schooling makes it easier to learn and makes me more productive [in regards to] my classwork and homework.”

All I can say is: It’s a crowded supermarket out there! And it got me thinking about New Year’s Eve 2019, when those last few seconds of the year were ticking away, and people around the world were busy celebrating the dawn of the new year (2020), hoping for adventure, excitement and most importantly, change. Although we were completely unaware of the events that would unfold in March, our naive, prior selves allowed us to better understand this age-old proverb: “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.” In other words, next time around, let’s maybe try to wish for a boring and entirely uneventful year.

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