New School Year, New Campus, New Protocols

Edith Holmsten, Student Life Editor

For the majority of LASA students, last school year consisted of more conversations on Zoom than in classrooms, more lessons through BLEND than face-to-face, and more time alone than in gatherings. However, students will transition to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year, which requires changes.

On June 18, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) announced high schools will be in-person for the 2021-2022 school year. According to principal Stacia Crescenzi, AISD decided to return in-person after exploring the benefits of in-person instruction for students’ social and emotional learning. Additionally, the Texas legislature denied funding to public high schools if they offered virtual instruction.

Senior and class of 2022 Student Council President Sally Edwards said she is looking forward to starting school in-person. Edwards went to campus in-person for a few weeks during the 2020-2021 spring semester and enjoyed engaging with her teachers.

“It was so much more of a rich experience, and I feel like it really helped me prepare and learn on this whole different level being able to interact with them in-person,” Edwards said. “In terms of my personal education I think it did a lot, and that’s one of the reasons I’m really excited to be going back to school.”

To prepare for the start of school, campus staff are continuing to clean classrooms, ask students to wash their hands, and quarantine if they are ill, according to Crescenzi. AISD also announced on Monday, Aug. 9, that teachers and students will be required to wear masks on campus given the Delta variant and the CDC’s recommendation that all individuals wear masks indoors. Even though the decision defies Texas Executive Order GA-36, which prohibits public schools from mandating mask wearing, Edwards and Crescenzi both said they will comply with the district’s mask mandate.

“We’re still gonna wear masks to school,” Edwards said, “which is just an abundance of caution out of respect for everyone and their families.”

AISD has also encouraged students and staff to get vaccinated if they are eligible. While Texas Executive Order GA-35 forbids public schools from asking about someone’s vaccination status, Crescenzi said she trusts vaccinations to prevent COVID-19 spread.

“There is nothing that’s going to be better to keep people safe than vaccinations,” Crescenzi said. “I recognize that there will be some families for whom that’s not an option for individual reasons, but my hope, and I think this is true, is that the vast majority of students and staff start the school year vaccinated.”

LASA is also taking into consideration that for all incoming students, besides seniors, the 2021-2022 year will be their first entire high school year in-person. To help students get to know each other and the building, LASA designated the morning of the first two days of school as an orientation with a campus tour, a meeting with administrators, and activities with advisory classes, according to Crescenzi. 

“It’s a new building,” Crescenzi said. “It’s new teachers. I can see there being a lot of anxiety, and the number of positive COVID tests are going up. So, I think everything we could do those first two days is this half day orientation to make students feel like this is my campus, ‘I know some people, so I’m not gonna be alone at lunch,’ is important for us to do.”

After teaching virtually for a year, many teachers are adapting their curriculum for in-person instruction. According to Chemistry and Wicked Problem Project teacher Helen Wilson, students can expect aspects of online learning, such as BLEND or recorded lectures, to be maintained.

“As any of your teachers will say, building on BLEND takes a long time,” Wilson said. “I imagine that your teachers will be pulling stuff that they did last year and then maybe making changes to it. So, if they made recorded lectures for last year, I guarantee you they’re coming back.”

With the start of the school year approaching on Tuesday, Aug. 17, LASA staff are planning for various consequences of students returning in-person. Crescenzi said she hopes all members of the LASA community will reflect on last year and learn from their experiences. 

“I do not think anybody is going to say, ‘Well, I’m just going to go back to the way it was prior to being virtual for a year and a half,’” Crescenzi said. “I think that the goal is to take the best of that and incorporate it in next year.”