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Evanston Township High School will open its doors to students next week but not for academic instruction. On asynchronous Mondays – when student view recorded instruction – and after school the other days of the week, students may attend activities for which they have registered.  Everyone in the building must wear a mask and observe social-distancing and other health and safety protocols from the Illinois  State Board of EducationIllinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and Centers for Disease Control, school officials said.

In a message to the ETHS community posted on Jan. 28, Dr. Witherspoon and Dr. Campbell acknowledged the social-emotional burden the pandemic is placing on the community. “Isolation is negatively affecting many of our students. In a regular school year, student wellbeing and belonging are priorities at ETHS and the pandemic amplifies those priorities.”

Winter Sports, Fine Arts, and “Monday Funday”

Students may participate in certain winter sports, based on guidance from the Illinois High School Association. Fine arts, hands-on enrichment and instructional activities and mindfulness practices are among the programs that will be open to students who register for them. The school will also offer an introduction to ETHS for the class of 2024 and “capstone” experiences for the class of 2021. Students will also be able to attend special Saturday programs offered through Wildkit Academy.

At the Feb. 8 School Board meeting, Nicole Boyd, Director of Student Activities at ETHS, said her department and the Community Service Department are working together “so there’ll be kind of fun activities and service activities on every Monday – anything from card-making to yoga. There’s an option to come learn double-dutch; there’s an option to just come and talk and chat about hot topics.” The ideas came from students, she said – from Student Council and 50 student ambassadors. “We just wanted to make sure we were meeting their needs and desires and asked. ‘What kind of things would you need to come into the building? What would you like to do? What would you come in for?’”

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Peter Bavis said, “What we’re working on here with our in-person experiences is about connecting students, seeing people, students interacting with each other, and staff safely, socially distanced, but doing so. But it’s also about getting out of the house and time away from screens.”

Dr. Campbell said, “We wanted to make sure that it was easy for students to do, easy for staff to sign up into – to let us know what they were doing. It helps us manage the process of the number of kids and being able to determine which rooms and be able to keep track of students and be able to contact trace, if necessary. We’re abiding by how the CDC and IDPH guidelines, which is really important to have a social distancing as wearing, all of that stuff will be very much a part of the same person experiences

Fine Arts Department Chair Nick Gehl said the Fine Arts Department is continuing to survey students. “We’ve had a really successful response so from music students. … Our staff did a great job of communicating to parents what protocols we’d be taking specific to music. Once we have a better understanding of how many kids and which kids are interested in coming in, we’re going to form opportunities around that group.”

The theater group is working to figure out options, he said, having met recently with the YAMO board. “I thought in the fall, our theater department put together a couple different recorded performances – and a huge shout-out to the IT crew like William Jenkins, for helping.  And I think it would be a big success if we can even replicate something similar. So we’re in the process now trying to identify shows that would be good for that. And then we’ll go down the line of doing auditions, communicating to students, and figuring out how to make it work logistically.”

Safe Center for Online Learning

The school will also provide a Safe Center for Online Learning for students who wish to engage in Enhanced E-Learning on campus.

Dr. Campbell said the Safe Center is “designed to be a supervised space for kids who can participate in enhanced e-learning from school [the school building] in case there’s a situation at home, or wherever they are, that they just would like to be with us at 1600 Dodge. This is something that is going to make sure that kids are supported. We’ll also be sure that kids who are just wanting to find a place to be during the day can come to school to do that.”

The Safe Center, which will be located in the east cafeteria, will not be a drop-in center; students will register to attend.

Students will register beforehand – “We want to anticipate who’s coming so we can plan for it, for safety procedures and protocols,” Dr. Campbell said.

Teachers can refer student to the Safe Center, he said, adding, “Our callers who are reaching out to kids and families every single day about attendance will also be mentioning our safe Center for Online Learning.”

The school will provide food using Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines.

Dr. Campbell added, “I want to be make sure that you [Board members] know, as we talk about equity, that we want to make sure that our Black and Brown kids can sign up for this. We will not be requiring any kids to come to this Safe Center for Online Learning. … This is a personal decision by the kid in the family to be able to do this. But we will not be saying to families, ‘Your kid, your student must come to this.’… But any student who wants to register has the ability to register, and we will be serving them and meeting their needs.”

District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said the in-person experiences allow students to come into the building on a limited basis. Having students in the building only at certain times and a scaled-down staff, he said, makes things more manageable than would opening up the school for all students and staff or even for hybrid learning.

“We really believe that this structure is going to offer students lots of in person active opportunities, lots of opportunities to come into their school, but it will not create the same safety issues that trying to conduct classes would do.  … We don’t have people doing passing periods. And we and we don’t have 1,500 people in the building at the same time.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...