Faculty and students return to campus after two weeks online

Vidhatrie Keetha and AJ Walker Jr.

The Upper Division (UD) and Middle Division (MD) returned to in-person instruction on Monday after an unexpected two week shift to HM Online 2.0 following four confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

As part of the shift back to in-person learning, students and faculty members were required to submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test before returning to campus. The administration has given the situation much thought and believes that the return to in-person learning is as safe as it can be, Head of Upper Division Jessica Levenstein said. “Having been at home for two weeks, I feel confident that if there had been any spread from the cases that we know about, we would have learned that,” she said.

Along with proof of a negative COVID-19 test and detailed contact tracing, the school is working closely with the Bronx Department of Health to inform its re-opening decisions. The administration has also reiterated the importance of completing the daily symptom check each morning and adhering to the HM Promise on and off campus. 

The administration has expanded their review of after-school activities for employees and students, according to Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly. “Over the last two weeks, we’ve had an unprecedented number of conversations with employees, students and parents, about either canceling or modifying after-school and weekend activities in the absence of appropriate protocols,” Kelly wrote in an email.

Since returning to campus, 29 MD students and one MD teacher have been required to quarantine for two weeks after an eighth-grade student tested positive for COVID-19. The school also asked a UD student and 23 of their close contacts to quarantine on Wednesday due to conflicting guidance from two health departments regarding the student’s COVID-19 test results. Before returning to campus on Monday, the student received a false-positive test, followed by two negative tests. However, those 23 students were permitted to return to campus on Thursday. 

Lexi Stein (12) is confident in the school’s ability to keep students safe during in-person instruction, she said. “I think that all of the teachers and students took precautions, and definitely the fact that everyone got tested to come back makes me feel much better,” she said. 

Aaron Shuchman (12) said coming to campus makes him feel more energized and active. When it comes to extracurriculars, Riya Daga (10), who plays field hockey, said she has been looking forward to the return of in-person sports.  

The brief transition to HM Online 2.0 has reminded students and teachers alike of the value of in-person learning, said Upper Division math teacher Charles Worrall, who could not wait to get back to campus and interact with his students in person. “The thing I’m really looking forward to about being back is seeing kids,” Worrall said. 

Shuchman found remote learning to be much less exciting than in-person classes, he said. “I definitely like being in the routine of having all my classes everyday,” he said. 

Computer Science teacher John Tomczak was looking forward to returning to campus to reconnect with the school community, he said. “Even just people you wave to, it’s nice to be back in a physical community right now,” Tomczak said. 

While many members of the community have returned to in-person instruction, some students are staying online. For Isabel Mavrides-Calderon (10), who has a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, being at a higher risk for the virus meant that she had to continue to attend school online even when school reopened.

Because her schooling experience was better during HM Online, the reopening of school was disappointing for Mavrides-Calderon, she said. “I was able to hear people better, participate in class more, and due to the altered schedule I spent less hours sitting in front of a computer,” she said. 

Raydris Espacia (10), who also learns remotely, said teachers should pay more attention to students who are online. “There are quite a few audio issues and sometimes video issues,” she said. “It can get frustrating at times.”

Before the transition to online learning, Daga did not think that in-person learning would last until November, she said. “But given that we’ve lasted this long, I actually think that Horace Mann will push through to Thanksgiving break,” she said. 

Juliette Shang (11) is also optimistic about the future of in-person learning, she said. “I am hopeful that we will make it to Thanksgiving as long as everyone wears their masks and social distances both at school and outside of school,” she said. 

Levenstein offered similar advice to the members of the community who wish to stay on campus for as long as possible. “I hope that people understand that the outcome they want is largely in their own power to control, so we all have to take that on as a personal responsibility,” she said.