Since the middle of February, there has been a noticeable difference in high schools across Wake County as students move back on campus. Hallways and cafeterias are once again filled with the chatter of students as they catch their friends up on the latest gossip. Before, there were three groups, or cohorts, that were alternating weeks in school. Now, they have combined so that all in person students go on campus on normal school days. The decision made by Wake County for the cohorts to combine after spring break was not welcomed by everyone, but it was the best choice for students affected.
It is often easier to learn in person as it is easier to communicate while face-to-face, so students can grasp topics faster, and teachers can better explain challenging points while both are in the same place. In-person students are also able to have more valuable time with teachers since they have returned to campus everyday. This also gives them a consistent schedule, instead of having to go to a new learning environment every couple weeks, which can be confusing at first.
An increase in social interaction is another important benefit of combining cohorts. Students can see a larger group of their friends when all in person students are on campus. They are also able to see their friends every day, instead of every couple weeks. This is very beneficial to the mental health of students, as many have felt isolated or depressed due to the limited amount of social interaction since in person school ended in March 2020. Being in a classroom with peers, moreover, provides students with more motivation to be engaged as interacting with teachers face-to-face encourages accountability.
The biggest concern regarding sending a group of students back to school full time is safety. It is largely the reason that so many students have continued to stay online. However, the precautions that schools are taking, such as limiting the amount of students allowed in a restroom at one time, make students and staff feel comfortable on campus. With only about half of the students at Athens Drive in person, the amount of people on campus remains relatively low. When not eating lunch, everyone is required to wear masks and appropriate social distancing takes place in classrooms.
The transformation in schools from empty hallways and classrooms to being full of chattering students has improved the mental health of students and teachers. With the benefits of learning in person and friends seeing each other more often, along with the continued safety of staff and students, combining the cohorts for in person learning was the right decision.