MHS Considers All Options for Reopening

Jade Decker and Joe Robb O'Hagan

With the number of Americans getting vaccinated on the rise – 50.5% have received their first dose as of May 31 – many expect that most aspects of life will return to pre-pandemic normalcy in the coming months. What does this mean for MHS students? It means that it’s likely that modifications made to stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools will be rescinded and pre-pandemic school life will, in large part, return to MHS.

Unfortunately, nothing is set in stone when it comes to plans being made for the upcoming school year. According to Robert Hohn, an MHS teacher on the Faculty Planning Committee, the biggest challenge the committee currently faces is how quickly the environment can change in terms of the virus. Cases can arise, restrictions can change, vaccination rates can drop, and it is challenging to imagine what the fall will look like.

For Elizabeth Clain, the principal of Mamaroneck High School, many factors are influencing her decisions regarding the upcoming school year. She has assembled the previously mentioned Faculty Planning Committee that is made up of teachers at MHS who will help decide plans for the school in the fall. The committee will be taking into account results from a student reflection survey distributed to all MHS students in their English classes. Along with students’ opinions on schedule changes, Focus Fridays, class distribution, and lunch, the survey gives much-needed insight into the effect of COVID-19 on students’ mental health and academics. This is an extremely important issue for Clain, who says the early results of the survey indicate that students are suffering from elevated rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges due to the pandemic. Clain is working with the planning committee to distribute COVID-19 Relief Funds to various social and emotional support programs as well as programs working to combat learning loss to meet students where they need support. As fall approaches, Clain hopes to continue listening to students’ needs through Student Council by regularly communicating with student representatives to get a sense of students’ opinions regarding the return to a more normal school environment.

It is expected that the school will be open full time in the fall and according to the aforementioned school survey that was sent out in late May, 70% of students (along with a majority of teachers) hope to return to the drop schedule where students’ schedules contain six classes per day, rather than eight. As mentioned by Clain in an interview, “My thought is that we probably will be moving back to a schedule with a little more breathing room.” Other schools face similar challenges, with the majority choosing to step away from 40-minute periods in an effort to increase class time. If the school chooses to return to the drop schedule of previous years, faculty have been advised to be sensitive to workload and make the transition from COVID-19 times to normalcy easier. Students have struggled from personal losses as well as learning losses, so easing into a more normal pre-pandemic school life is critical for students’ mental health.

New York State is currently mandating that all public school districts provide online learning options this school year. However, the school is awaiting state guidance to determine whether online will be an option next year. Either way, students are strongly encouraged to return to school as the number of MHS students vaccinated continues to rise. Vaccinations will not be a requirement for students attending MHS in the fall, although most are getting their shots. As of June 13th, over 85% of seniors, 74% of juniors,  and 60% of sophomores and freshmen have been vaccinated. With these high numbers, Clain is hopeful that many of the COVID-19 safety policies currently in place throughout MHS will be repealed for the upcoming school year; however, she stresses the fact that things can change quickly, and nothing will be confirmed until mid-August. 

One of the largest changes to the MHS Schedule for the 2020-2021 School Year was the addition of Focus Friday, a bi-weekly day where students only attend an advisory class, office hours, club meetings, and use any additional time they may have to catch up on work. Unfortunately, Focus Friday did not work as many wanted it to. Student attendance to advisory was low, office hours were too infrequent, and clubs had trouble operating in modified Zoom environments. For these reasons, among others, Clain said, “I do not believe we will have a Focus Friday schedule” in the upcoming school year. However, Clain was able to see the value in advisory this year and said, “We are looking into incorporating advisory into a schedule at Mamaroneck High School,” taking into account the 75% of students who indicated on the survey that advisory was a positive addition to the MHS schedule.

With the potential return of advisory in a pre-pandemic MHS schedule, many students wonder if MHS will return to video announcements. This year, Student Council aimed to use Focus Friday to launch MHS Focus, a new video announcement series to share updates on Student Council activities and provide a platform for students to get messages out to their peers. However, MHS Focus never officially launched, with most citing that creating and publishing the series was too big of a time commitment. When asked about the popular video broadcast MHS Info, the pre-pandemic announcement series that MHS Focus replaced, Clain said that MHS Info will not be returning to Mamaroneck High School next year as it was no longer beneficial in developing the skills of MHS video students, who took a class dedicated to developing the series.

Clubs also faced their fair share of challenges; many meetings overlapped and they were only able to meet once every two weeks on Focus Friday. However, Carol Scheffler, the Coordinator of Student Affairs at MHS, was able to make the best of the situation, keeping over 70 clubs operating, and introducing the online MHS ClubHub, a place for students to discover and learn about MHS’s wide variety of club opportunities in a virtual format. While ClubHub was unable to generate quite as much energy and excitement as the MHS club fair, the app still allowed students to browse the club catalog anytime and anywhere, a valuable asset for club recruitment. It is expected that clubs will perform even better in the face of fewer challenges next year, likely meeting during lunch as they did in years previous to the pandemic and recruiting new members at the MHS Club Fair, which will return as well. In fact, Scheffler says, “My hope and my expectation is that I will have kids flooding into my office saying ‘I have this idea for a new club.’” In addition to this, faculty are fairly optimistic that the school will return to its prior sense of school spirit with energetic events normally held by Student Council being slowly reintroduced.

Although this has been a school year like no other, Mamaroneck High School’s faculty and students are determined to bring the school environment back to its previous state. It is still very much uncertain what the next school year will look like at MHS, but there is good reason to believe that actions will be taken to help ease MHS into a more ‘normal’ high school experience.