Chicago students return to campus during COVID surge

On Monday, when Nariana Castillo prepared for her kindergarteners and first-graders for their first day on the Chicago Public School campus more than 530 days later, glimpses of normalcy and stubbornness were everywhere. The elusive reminder.
In the new lunch box, there are several bottles of chocolate milk next to the small bottles of hand sanitizer. In a shopping bag full of school supplies, the notebook is hidden next to the disinfectant wipes.
Throughout the city, hundreds of thousands of families like Castillo go to public schools in Chicago to return to the high risk of full-time face-to-face learning. Many people brought a bunch of conflicting emotions, often cleverly hidden in the young people who swept through the pleasure of comeback. Some people are very disappointed that the rise of the delta variant in the summer has caused families to lose the reopened school, which was once an important milestone in the fight against the coronavirus.
After the basically virtual school year, attendance rates dropped, and failing grades soared—especially for students of color—students also faced hope and uncertainty in terms of academic catch-up and emotional therapy in the coming months .
Even though Mayor Lori Lightfoot boasted of investing $100 million to reopen safely, people still question whether the school district is ready. Last week, the last-minute resignation of the bus driver means that more than 2,000 Chicago students will receive cash instead of school bus seats. Some educators worry that in crowded classrooms and corridors, they cannot keep children the recommended three-foot distance. Parents still have questions about what will happen if multiple cases are reported on campus.
“All of us are learning how to face-to-face classes again,” said José Torres, interim chief executive of the school district.
This summer, Chicago Public Schools required all employees to wear masks and vaccinate—a requirement that the state has also accepted. However, the school district and its teachers’ union failed to reach a written reopening agreement and exchanged sharp words on the eve of the school year.
On Sunday night, at her home in McKinley Park, Nariana Castillo set the alarm clock at 5:30 in the morning, then stayed up until midnight, sorting supplies, making ham and cheese sandwiches , And text other moms.
“Our message is how excited we are and how anxious we are at the same time,” she said.
Last weekend, Castillo drew a fine line between instilling caution in her two children and allowing them to bloom with joy on the first day of school. For first-year student Mila and kindergarten child Mateo, this will be the first time to set foot on the Talcott Fine Arts and Museum Academy in the western part of the city.
Castillo asked Mira to choose new unicorn sneakers, flashing pink and blue lights every step of the way, while listening to her talking about making new friends in the classroom. She also warned the children that they might have to spend most of the school day on their desks.
By Monday morning, Castillo could still see Mira’s excitement begin. After meeting with her on Google Meet the previous week and answering questions about Mila’s favorite in Spanish, the girl has already praised her teacher. Moreover, when she presented celery as a parting treat to the “COVID Rabbit” Stormy at home, she said, “I can rest. I have never rested before.”
The shift to virtual learning disturbed Castillo’s children. The family had postponed the launch of a computer or tablet, and heeded advice about limiting screen time. Mila studied at Velma Thomas Early Childhood Center, a bilingual program that emphasizes hands-on activities, games, and outdoor time.
Mila adapted to the new habit of distance learning relatively quickly. But Castillo is a full-time mother who accompanies preschooler Mateo all year round. Castillo is very worried that the epidemic is preventing her children from participating in social interactions that are vital to their development. Nonetheless, in parts of the city severely hit by the coronavirus, when the region offers mixed options in the spring, the family chose to insist on full virtual learning. Castillo said, “For us, safety is better than reason.”
At a press conference on Monday, city officials stated that they have been working for several months and plan to force a reopening in the country’s third largest district — and assure families like Castillo that it is safe to return. For the first time, the school district held a traditional back-to-school press conference at another alternative high school in the Southern District to acknowledge that after adjusting distance learning last year, the number of students with insufficient credits has increased this year.
In a classroom in the Chicago South Ombudsman’s Office near the Chicago Lawn, senior students said they hope that the face-to-face push will help them finish their high school diploma after the start and stop of personal crises, pandemics, and non-work needs. . Campus work.
Margarita Becerra, 18, said she was nervous about returning to class in a year and a half, but the teachers had “goed all out” to make students feel comfortable. Although everyone in the class worked at their own pace on a separate device, the teachers still wandered around the room to answer questions, helping Becerra to be optimistic that she would complete her degree in the middle of the year.
“Most people come here because they have children or have to work,” she said of the half-day course. “We just want to finish our work.”
At the press conference, the leaders emphasized that the requirements for masks and employee vaccinations are the pillars of the strategy to control the spread of COVID in the region. Finally, Lightfoot said, “The evidence must be in the pudding.”
In the face of a national shortage of school bus drivers and the resignation of local drivers, the mayor stated that the district has a “reliable plan” to address the shortage of approximately 500 drivers in Chicago. Currently, families will receive between US$500 and US$1,000 for arranging their own transportation. On Friday, the school district learned from the bus company that another 70 drivers had resigned due to the task of vaccinations-this was an 11th hour curve ball, allowing Castillo and other parents to prepare for another one full of uncertainty The school year.
For several weeks, Castillo has been closely following news about the surge in the number of COVID cases due to delta variants and school outbreaks in other parts of the country. A few weeks before the start of the new school year, she participated in an information exchange meeting with Talcott principal Olimpia Bahena. She won Castillo’s support through regular emails to her parents and her serious ability. Despite this, Castillo was still upset when he learned that regional officials had not resolved some security agreements.
The school district has since shared more details: students who need to be quarantined for 14 days due to COVID or close contact with people infected with COVID will listen to classroom teaching remotely during part of the school day. The school district will provide voluntary COVID testing to all students and families every week. But for Castillo, the “grey area” still exists.
Later, Castillo had a virtual meeting with Mira’s first-year teacher. With 28 students, her class will become one of the largest first-year classes in recent years, which makes it a problem to keep the area as close as possible to three feet. Lunch will be in the cafeteria, another first-year and two second-year classes. Castillo saw that disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer were on the list of school supplies that parents were asked to take to school, which made him very angry. The school district received billions of dollars in pandemic recovery funds from the federal government, some of which were used to pay for protective equipment and supplies to safely reopen the school.
Castillo took a breath. For her, nothing is more important than protecting her children from the pressure of the pandemic.
This fall, in the south of Chicago, Dexter Legging did not hesitate to send his two sons back to school. His children need to be in the classroom.
As a volunteer for parent advocacy organizations, community organizations and family issues, Legging has been a voice supporter for the reopening of full-time schools since last summer. He believes that the school district has taken important measures to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID, but he also pointed out that any discussion about keeping children healthy must focus on mental health. He said the school suspension caused heavy losses due to cutting off his children’s communication with peers and caring adults, as well as extracurricular activities such as his junior football team.
Then there are scholars. With his eldest son entering the third year of Al Raby High School, Legging has created a spreadsheet to manage and track college applications. He is very grateful that the school teachers have been promoting and supporting his son with special needs. But last year was a major setback, and his son occasionally cancelled virtual courses due to extended time. It helps to return to school two days a week in April. Nevertheless, Legging was surprised to see the Bs and Cs on the boy’s report card.
“Those should be Ds and Fs-all of them; I know my children,” he said. “He is about to become a junior, but is he ready for a junior job? It scares me.”
But for Castillo and her parents in her social circle, welcoming the beginning of the new school year is even more difficult.
She participated in the non-profit organization Brighton Park Neighborhood Committee, where she mentored other parents about the school system. In a recent parent survey conducted by a non-profit organization, more than half of the people said they wanted a completely virtual choice in the fall. Another 22% said that they, like Castillo, prefer to combine online learning with face-to-face learning, which means fewer students in the classroom and greater social distance.
Castillo heard that some parents plan to suspend school at least the first week of school. At one time, she thought about not sending her child back. But the family has been working hard to study and apply for elementary school, and they are excited about Talcott’s bilingual curriculum and artistic focus. Castillo couldn’t bear the thought of losing their place.
In addition, Castillo was convinced that her children could not study at home for another year. She can’t do it for another year. As a former preschool teaching assistant, she has recently obtained a teaching qualification, and she has already started to apply for a job.
On the first day of school on Monday, Castillo and her husband Robert stopped to take pictures with their children across the street from Talcot. Then they all put on masks and plunged into the hustle and bustle of parents, students and educators on the sidewalk in front of the school. The riots – including bubbles pouring down from the second floor of the building, Whitney Houston’s “I want to dance with someone” on the stereo, and the school’s tiger mascot – made the red social distancing dots on the sidewalk look out of season .
But Mira, who seemed calm, found her teacher and lined up with the classmates who were waiting for their turn to enter the building. “Okay, friends, siganme!” The teacher yelled, and Mila disappeared at the door without looking back.

Post time: Sep-14-2021