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In Minnesota, students have mixed opinions about classroom learning

The governor wants older students to have in-person options soon. How do they feel about it all?

As the debate over school openings rages across the state, we’ve heard from a lot of teachers, administrators, and parents.

But we haven’t always heard the voices of students.

With Gov. Tim Walz announcing on Wednesday that older kids should at least have in-person classroom options by early March, KARE 11 sought the perspective of three Twin Cities high school students from three different districts, each with unique opinions about how their schools should move forward during the rest of 2021.

Ava Schaefer, a senior at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, remains fully remote and does not know when, or if, the Minneapolis Public Schools will bring high school students back to the classroom. However, she said she would be worried about any prospect of in-person learning at this point, at least until the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available.

“Obviously, I want the teachers to be vaccinated,” she said. “I still have concerns, especially for people who have high-risk families. I definitely have friends who wouldn’t be able to go back because they have people in their family [where] it would be too dangerous for them.”

Edina High School sophomore Heather Schnell, on the other hand, said the distance learning model presents huge obstacles. She starts her transition to a hybrid model on Wednesday, but she would prefer to return to in-person classes five days a week with safety precautions in place.

“Nothing replaces the classroom experience,” Schnell said. “It’s really hard to do your work, alone in your room, all day, and feel a sense of community, when you’re just staring at a blank screen with bubbles on it.”

Those challenges are felt in the private school realm, too.

Brooke Lee, a senior at The Blake School, said online classes have forced her to be a more independent learner and that the period of full distance learning this year felt isolating at times. While she would like to go back to the classroom if conditions improve, she said she can live with her current hybrid model, if it helps salvage some of her favorite activities during senior year.

“If going back fully, all five days a week, would jeopardize potentially having a sports season or a decently normal graduation, or just in general risking people’s health,” Lee said, “I would much prefer to stay in hybrid.”

The varied opinions from these students are indicative of the larger debate surrounding school openings. Some families across the Twin Cities remain nervous about the spread of the virus with in-person classes, while others say the online model poses challenges to students who speak English as a second language or those who lack high-speed Internet access at home. KARE 11 interviewed a parent advocate earlier this year who said that opinions seem to be almost exactly evenly split.

But almost everyone can agree with one thing.

Pandemic learning is just not ideal.

“It’s been definitely an adjustment I would say,” Brooke Lee said.

“It’s really hard,” Heather Schnell said.

“It’s been pretty crazy,” Ava Schaefer said.

It’s certainly not how Schaefer or other seniors envisioned their final year at Southwest High School.

“You’re at home, but also trying to do your schoolwork. You have classes online and you’re looking at a screen all day,” Schaefer said. “Most of my friends, and people I talk to, are hesitant about going back. But, obviously, everyone misses the day-to-day interactions and life back at school.”