Now that we’re halfway through the school year and at the start of the new school semester, many students, parents, and educators are beginning to wonder how the spring semester might look. They want to know what might be different from the past two semesters that were so profoundly affected by COVID–19 and the economic downturn.
Just think: since last February, some schools have closed down altogether, while others have offered students and their families lunch each day. They have gone from in-person teaching to online distance learning to hybrid lesson planning and back to on-campus instruction off and on for the past nine months.
These are no small feats, but students, parents, and teachers are all ready for some degree of normalcy to return. Will we start to see a return to pre-Covid school routines as early as this spring? In some ways, yes. In other ways, educators and the families that depend on them will have to hang in there just a little longer.
Let's take a look at what we can all expect for the upcoming spring term after returning from winter break this new calendar year.
Instruction Will Return to the Classroom for the New School Academic Calendar in Late Winter
This winter has been and will continue to be a pretty dark one where the coronavirus is concerned. Cooler temperatures and indoor holiday gatherings across the country have helped to create a surge in COVID–19 cases. It’s been so pronounced that some medical pundits have called it a “surge on top of a surge” in the wake of the holidays and the onset of cooler months.
The weather will begin to warm up in most places around the middle to end of March. This could mean a downturn in the virus’s ability to spread, but it will also mean teachers can take their students outside for more of their lessons, making it less likely to spread the illness.
Imminent Vaccines Will Make Returning to Campus Possible in the New School Year
According to The New York Times, the incoming Biden administration plans to vaccinate 100 million Americans within the first 100 days after the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden. A large portion of these vaccines will be reserved for the nation’s elderly and infirmed, as well as the healthcare workers who care for them. Still, it's likely that teachers and other school staff will be among those to receive the vaccine during stage-two rollout, which is predicted to occur within those promised first 100 days of delivery.
That means we can expect educators and other school employees to have been vaccinated by sometime in mid- to-late April.
At least three vaccines from AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Pfizer were seeking permission for emergency use from the FDA last month, and the country has already begun rolling out vaccines to individuals in the top tiers. This means the process of getting more Americans vaccinated will presumably occur faster as we approach the end of the 100-day period discussed by the Biden administration. Even more schools will be able to return to on-campus instruction, likely by May of the new school academic calendar and almost certainly by the following fall semester.
Continued Social Distancing with Careful Campus Repopulation
It is likely that by the beginning of March, most educational facilities will continue to work hard to keep students socially distant in the classroom. However, as more students return from off-campus distance learning, parents and teachers can expect staggered school weeks and a refocus on hybrid lesson planning from many schools and teachers. We expect this to continue at least until we see more widespread vaccinations and a significant decrease in infection rates.
Until then, parents can expect their children to attend school on a split schedule in many districts. Schools will likely offer online instruction on the days students are off-campus. This hybrid classroom style is likely to continue through mid-spring as the Biden administration’s promised 100 days of 100 million vaccinations draw to a close and the next round of vaccinations is released.
Expect a Return to Higher Standards for Students
With on-campus learning making a comeback at some point this spring semester, teachers are likely to move away from relaxed expectations for students. Last year, students and families had to learn how to make remote learning work, figure out hybrid school schedules, and ensure that students stayed on task and on schedule in an often hectic homeschooling environment. Because of this, teachers were far more likely to cut students and their families slack on due dates and keeping up with school work.
This spring, teachers may start to transition back to academic excellence as students get a grasp on staggered school days and how to use the technology they need at home for distance learning.
Beyond this, with school returning to some degree of normalcy back on campus, teachers may again up the ante on students as they return to the classroom full-time. Teachers might expect assignments to be due on time and students to keep up with all of their studies.
What This Means for Your School's Enrollment and Retention
As the spring semester continues, parents may be eager to place their children in schools where more on-campus learning is possible and the five-day school week is back in session. Out of an abundance of caution, administrators might plan to maintain a hybrid learning environment with some degree of distance learning. Non-distanced schools will need to ensure that parents understand the risks they are taking by having their children attend schools without full precautions. Schools should:
Let parents know that teachers will be working on a return to normalcy. Convey that the school has a plan for reintroducing students to regular, in-classroom instruction in a manner that keeps everyone safe.
Remind parents that vaccines are on the way and that when it is safe to return to campus full-time, your school will begin transitioning back to full-time, on-campus instruction.
To be sure, when it comes to the ways we're educating, much is up in the air right now. Focus on setting standards for students who may not have been challenged enough during at-home schooling. Make parents aware of plans to transition back to traditional classroom settings. Let them know when they can reasonably expect this to occur. And finally, ensure that your institution has a forward-thinking and progressive plan for student recruitment for the upcoming fall semester while you also focus on student retention this spring.