Northbrook schools adapt to pandemic


Students at Greenbriar Elementary School sit under one of the tents outside the school taking a “mask break” while eating lunch. Students were given the choice between learning remotely or in person. Photo by Ellie White

Audrey Gottschild, News Editor

The last first day of high school for senior Mason Durst consisted of sitting through six hours of Zoom classes in his room, an experience very different from his sister’s. Seventh grader Katie Durst was learning in-person at Northbrook Junior High School. 

“I feel like [the first day] was really awkward because we had our teacher trying to ask us questions and no one wanted to be the first person to unmute themselves,” Mason Durst said in a video conference.

According to Glenbrook North Principal Jason Markey in a video conference, GBN advanced to Step 2 of the Learning and Operation Plan on Sept. 8, with most students E-Learning and others who need instructional assistance or have an Individualized Education Program attending in-person learning on alternating days.

On Oct. 5, GBN advanced to Step 3, a hybrid learning environment where students can learn on campus on a rotating basis, depending on grade level and last name, or opt to remain virtual. 

One of the challenges of E-Learning is that it is difficult to build a classroom community, and may make it harder for new students to get to know others, Markey said. 

NBJH Principal Scott Meek said in a video conference that NBJH, part of Northbrook School District #28, gave families the choice between in-person learning and remote learning for their student for the semester. The district plans to allow families to reevaluate their decision in December.

During in-person learning at NBJH, students are given time outside for socially distant mask breaks and lunch in outdoor tents. Additionally, safety precautions including one-way staircases and a different bell for each grade level have been implemented to reduce congestion in the hallways. Parents or guardians are required to fill out a daily safety form for their student upon arrival, and students are required to wear masks and social distance. 

Students who are remote learning are either in a class with peers who are also learning entirely remote, or in a combined class with some students learning in-person, Meek said.

According to Katie Durst in a video conference, she likes being at school and being able to ask her teacher questions in person rather than having to email them outside of school. 

“[The in-person school day] is like a normal school day, but we go outside and have breaks for masks where we can take them off,” said Katie Durst. “We’ve done more things outside than we would usually do.” 

According to Meek, the hardest part of in-person learning is reminding the students and staff to remain socially distanced.

“There have to be these reminders about keeping the social distance,” said Meek. “Our promise [to families] is we’re going to keep our masks on in the building [and] we’re going to keep kids six feet apart, whether they’re inside or outside.”

At Greenbriar Elementary School, students still learn with the same class the entire day, while the layout of classrooms are now organized to aid in social distancing.

Ginny Hiltz, Greenbriar Elementary School Principal, said in a video conference that masks are required, outdoor tents have been rented for lunch periods and outdoor learning spaces have been provided for P.E. classes and teachers to use for reading time or other lessons. 

“I think for some [students] who are more social … it’s been a little bit of a challenge, but overall I think the kids who are in person are really happy to be back at school,” Hiltz said. “And then of course, our kids who are remote are learning how to build a community on a screen virtually … so everyone’s still adjusting.”

According to Mason Durst, the teachers at GBN are doing a great job with E-Learning.“[E-Learning] can still get very messy though when managing tabs or when you get disconnected, whereas in the classroom you can ask the teacher questions and everything is a lot more straightforward,” Mason Durst said.