• Michelle Ferrone

Students Weigh In On COVID Mitigation Strategies

It has been nearly a year and a half since schools entered lockdown for the coronavirus, beginning in March 2020. After several months of remote learning and a full year of keeping the school at half-capacity, Greenwich High School finally reopened again for all students - this year, without an option for remote learning.

To keep students safe and reduce COVID-19 cases, the GHS administration implemented a number of COVID mitigation strategies, per CDC guidelines. Among them are the mask mandate, social distancing in classrooms, and a one-way corridor. Plastic dividers were also placed on each table in the Student Center during the first month and a half, although these were recently removed Oct. 15.

According to Mary Keller, the head nurse at GHS, the components preventing the spread of transmission, in addition to education and vaccination, can be categorized into four main goals: social distancing, masking, ventilation and hygiene. Essentially, these strategies are part of a larger method called the “Swiss Cheese Approach.” Keller explained how “You may not always be able to 100 percent eliminate the possibility of transmission, [but if] you have a piece of Swiss Cheese with a hole, on another piece with a hole, on another piece with a hole, then soon, you have a pretty substantial barrier.”

In other words, while each individual element of disease prevention cannot completely stop the spread of COVID on their own, they can significantly affect how the virus is transmitted from one student to the next when exercised together.

However, like every other school in the country during the last year and a half, Greenwich High must walk the fine line between students’ safety and comfort. GHS currently has a student body of over 2,800 students—approximately equal to that of some small colleges—and so it can be a challenge for health officials to represent the needs and desires of all students and parents. While some students prefer to keep their distance from others in school, increasing prevention against the disease, others are willing to forgo some extra measures of caution to talk closely with their peers, believing that some mitigation strategies make for a less interactive learning environment.

When asked about their opinion of the school’s precautions against COVID, most students state that they are satisfied with GHS’s approach, given the countless challenges the school continues to face with the virus.

Tenth graders Sienna Woodring and Chloe Eberwein explained how they think GHS “has done everything it can do, considering the amount of people there are. It's hard to regulate, with so many kids. There are so many things to think about, and so many people to accommodate.”

One current frustration with Greenwich High’s precautions against COVID-19 is the one-way glass corridor, connecting the two opposite sides of the building to each other. Prior to the shutdown, students were able to use this central hallway to travel from the Student Center, to the art, music, PE and science wings, and vice-versa.

Per mitigation strategies, however, students must use an outside route to walk to classes from the Student Center—a distance of about a quarter of a mile when walking from one end of the building to the very opposite end.

Many students expressed how they feel the corridor should be opened to two-way travel again, as many other hallways in the school are two-way, and much smaller than the glass corridor. Many feel that, if the one-way policy were to be removed in this central hallway, getting to class on time would be both quicker and more convenient, as students would not have to walk outside, especially in cold weather. While the corridor often opens for two-way travel during particularly rainy or snowy weather, this again raises the question of why this policy’s enforcement seems to be circumstantial.

Still, there are some students who wish that they were more protected against COVID. Even when hybrid learning was removed this past June, a fully remote option was still available for families who preferred it. This year, however, the school is at 100 percent capacity, and some students have recently expressed their wishes to learn from home for both academic and safety purposes.

When asked about this topic, Woodring and Eberwein stated that they believe a remote option should be available for those who feel uncomfortable with learning in person, such as those with an auto-immune disease.

Junior Sophia Pelle shared similar thoughts, also noting how remote learning is simply easier for some students, as it gives teens the ability to work from the comfort of their own homes and grants them more flexibility, allowing them to take lessons at their own pace. Of course, this is not the case for all students, as many feel that remote lessons make it more difficult to focus on the material, but Pelle suggests that all students should have the ability to choose which option best suits them.

Ultimately, Keller explains, the essential components of Greenwich High’s mitigation strategies are mandated by the governor, not directly from the school. “There’s a million people that meet weekly, the superintendent has a meeting she attends weekly, I have a meeting that I attend weekly. The health department has a meeting that they attend weekly,” Keller explained. “Then, we all share that information and come up with what we think is the best and most realistic guidance for everybody.”

Each year, more is learned about the virus and more accurate measures of caution can be taken against it. It’s a difficult process of trial and error, and such strategies require the consideration of masking, air flow, contact tracing and so much more.

Despite students’ minor frustrations, all interviewed expressed a positive reception to how the school is handling COVID. High-schoolers and parents alike realize that this has been a difficult period for everyone, and that health officials are doing the best they can to accommodate all people.

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