February 26, 2022

Back in the Classroom: NYC Students are Adapting to In-Person Learning

On Monday, May 24, 2021, former Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that NYC schools reopen on September 13th for the 2021-2022 school year. Many NYC students and families were excited because it was a step towards normalcy – but it also raised the question, how will going back to school five days a week affect NYC children? For two years, students have had to adjust to different learning environments whether it was remote, going back to school in-person or hybrid schedules.  

“I noticed that my students would rather be in-person for school and are more engaged than on a virtual screen. Students are more social or prefer to have more social interactions in-person, sometimes it becomes a distraction from learning but using interactive activities or including group work can help. Students have also forgotten the routine and norms/rules the school has, reiterating and re-visiting expectations and getting students into a routine is an important aspect of adjusting students back to in-person learning,” said Dhayahara Antigua, a 7th grade STEM teacher at East Harlem Scholars Academy Middle School.  

We spoke to three Fresh Air kids from middle school, high school and college and asked how they are continuing to adapt to the constant changes and adjusting to in-person learning.  

Christian, 13 – 8th Grade  

Do you prefer virtual learning at home or in-person learning? 

“I like virtual because it was safe but it is also great going back to school because I saw all my friends that I was talking to while we were home.” 

What are some of the biggest differences you noticed being back in school?  

“Well, they are letting us have more time outside during lunch and gym. I like going outside to play with my friends. My homeroom teacher also asks us every morning how we are feeling by using emojis and gives us the option to talk to our counselor if we wanted to. I think this is really important because it helps us express our feelings. We also have to try to be three feet social distanced and they have sanitizers for us to use. We are using a lot of technology and computers now – I use it for all my classes.” 

What did you do to help you adjust to school?  

“I like going outside to the park and even seeing my friends. We like to play sports together.”  

Yazmin, 14 – 9th Grade 

Do you prefer virtual learning at home or in-person learning? 

“I like how it is as of now, although I like to attend school virtually, I feel like it’s better in person. I do better regarding my grades, and I learn more when I socialize with other people.” 

What is the biggest difference you noticed about school if you compare before COVID-19 and now?  

“One of the biggest differences that I’ve noticed about school compared to how it was pre-COVID is during lunch I can’t sit next to my friends or at least I have to be two feet away from them because we have to practice social distancing.” 

How connected do you feel to the teachers at your school? 

“I feel very connected to all of my teachers. They are all very welcoming and they are also very understanding. Everyone in my school is very nice.” 

What has been the most difficult thing about transitioning from virtual to in-person learning? 

“During the beginning of this school year, it was very hard for me to transition from virtual learning to in-person learning because it was difficult for me to wake up really early to get ready and then take public transportation to get to my school.” 

Effie, 18 – Freshman at Lehman College 

Do you prefer virtual learning at home or in-person learning? 

“There are pros and cons to being at home and on campus. Personally, I enjoy being in school more than being at home. I’m usually a visual learner so when it comes to academics it is easier for me to be in person learning. As a student, I also feel like being in school motivates me to get schoolwork done because I’m physically there to ask professors for help. It is also a change of scenery and an engagement around other students through this learning process. The presence in a school classroom has a community that can easily be lost online so I do like being in school more than at home.”  

What is the biggest difference you noticed about school if you compare school pre-COVID-19 and now? 

“Pre-COVID, I always enjoyed going to school no matter how hard it was to get there, I still loved it. Classes were easy to balance out, I always had the support I needed even when I had to stay in school to finish my assignments. Eventually when COVID-19 hit, everything transitioned online. The biggest difference for me when I went online was the adjustment being on Zoom every day. I had to hold myself accountable to set goals and manage time and all my assignments. I had to be more responsible instead of relying on my teachers and friends. When the upcoming school year came, it just felt so different because everything was virtual, and I just had to make time for school. Email was the only way people were able to contact me and the connections I felt with my friends became less. I had to learn how to multitask and be more flexible.”   

How difficult or easy is it to stay focused on your schoolwork right now? 

“I thought the first semester was kind of hard with schoolwork and the amount of assignments we had every day – it was so different from high school. I had a heavy workload and I felt like I was not able to concentrate. It was hard to motivate myself to do my assignments sometimes. There were always assignments that were due every day and week. I had two classes that were online asynchronous, so it was even harder for me to get work done because we weren’t having class, so I had to teach myself the materials and I forced myself to reach out to the teacher if I didn’t know what to do. It was a lot to catch up but the only way I was able to pass through the finish line was to stay positive and advocate for myself.”  

Emikhe Tisor, an educator and Camp staff and alum from Camp ABC, had once told me, ‘If you continue to stress yourself out, you will continue to feel like this. Feeling tired and stressed is normal and it’s okay to take a break and worry about the work later. Positivity is key and you can always achieve anything as long as you put your mind into it.’”  

Fresh Air All Year!  

“There has been a HUGE focus placed on social emotional learning for students. Not only are we teaching the content everyone expects students to be learning in school (Math, English, History, Science, etc), but we’re intentionally teaching students skills such as empathy, decision making, self-awareness, and many more. We hope that as we continue to teach these skills to students, they’ll manifest to help students become more comfortable being back in person, as well as provide them with soft skills needed for their futures. I’m sure as the years continue to pass, social emotional learning will continue to be at the forefront of the work that we do as teachers,” Ridwan Olatilewa, Fresh Air alum and 9th grade Algebra teacher at the Urban Assembly Maker Academy shared.   

In addition to providing academic support, The Fund’s year-round enrichment programs emphasize the importance of mentorship and for teens to have safe spaces, express themselves and continue to focus on their social and emotional skills. This summer, the Summer Teen Academy launched the Circle of Brotherhood that hosted a small group of youth in development mentorship program to build friendships and form a supportive community.  

Last month, the Circle of Brotherhood hosted a fun movie night to watch the new Spiderman movie. 

Learn more about the Circle of Brotherhood and The Fund’s Summer Teen Academy!