Coronavirus At Parker

Parker’s Response to the Global Pandemic

On a cake by “Vanille Patisserie,” a bakery near Parker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot guards the lake front.

Avani Kalra

On a cake by “Vanille Patisserie,” a bakery near Parker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot guards the lake front.

By Nick Skok, Francis W. Parker Junior/High School

As we approach spring break, the lives of Parker students won’t seem to be much different than they have been in the last three weeks. Parker families will, for the most part, be sheltering in place and pondering whether they will be attending classes at Parker or at home for the remainder of the semester.

Just over three weeks ago, on March 20, Governor Pritzker announced a stay at home order for the state of Illinois. Four weeks ago, on March 12, Parker announced its closing effective March 16 through March 30. Principal Dan Frank ‘74 sent a notice out to the entire Parker community that announced an optional day of classes the following day, the entire week of March 16 off, and online classes beginning on March 23. Parker is now set to resume regular classes on May 1. 

Head of Upper School Justin Brandon said the school announced Thursday rather than Friday to give students an extra day to prepare for the next two weeks away from school. “That was always part of the process of our thinking,” Brandon said. “We want to make sure that we give people enough time, as much as possible, so they can gather their things and then for parents of younger ones to find childcare.”

According to Technology Director Peter Evans, the week of March 16 was to be used by the teachers to get acclimated with transitioning into teaching their courses online for at least the following week. Attendance Director Lisa Williams gave teachers courses and lessons throughout that week on how to use Google Meet, the platform all teachers were to use for online classes. The idea of using Google Meet instead of Zoom came partially because Zoom was not offering free school plans at the time but mostly because Evans did not think it was a good idea to introduce a whole new platform to teachers with only a week to prepare. “Let’s just get everybody set up with tools they already have access to,” Evans said.

During that week, Evans said, the general belief among teachers was that Parker would extend its closing an additional week, and classes would resume after spring break. The challenge then for the teachers was to create two weeks of online lessons that would not completely alter their curriculum. 

Once Pritzker postponed the return of all schools in the state of Illinois until May 1st, the teachers had to focus on more long term course ideas. “Over the course of, say, two weeks, how do we keep everybody engaged in class,” Evans said. “Now if this is going to extend longer, that’s changing now into how do we actually do more teaching of new material, actual classroom replacement teaching.” 

The schedule that Middle and Upper School Director of Studies Sven Carlsson created allotted two one-hour class periods per week along with two forty-five minute advisory periods and various G and H periods scattered throughout the week. “Our teachers are really taking this seriously, which of course we thought they would, and professionally to make sure that there is a great learning component to this shift…” Brandon said. “Is it going to be perfect? No, we’re going to have to figure out what makes sense for our community. And just having an understanding of patience and flexibility during this unpredictable time.” 

According to Brandon, during that first week before online classes began, the administration had Google Meetings set up every day at 10 a.m. to discuss logistics of remote learning as well as the future of the school year. Finding a way to keep the community together while everyone is at home taking their classes was the top priority. “How do we create some sense of consistency and a sense of community at our school as we’re still a school, we’re just not together,” Brandon said.

Upper School Counselor and Department Chair Binita Donohue added, “I want students to feel like school is still an engaging, fairly happy place to be. And I think most teachers that I’ve talked to are looking for that same thing.”

Nurse Anne foresaw the postponement of school past April 21st, because, as she noted on March 27th,  the increase in cases each day is not supposed to level out until April 15. “There might have been people that were sick before we went into social distancing and then had a mild form of it and then got over it,” Nurse Anne said. “So they talk about it being in the community now at this point, rather than people bringing it in from around the world.”

She believes six days would be too soon to have everyone together back in the building. “Our numbers keep going up mainly because we don’t know how many people are infected,” she said. “There’s probably a lot of people that have been infected and maybe even got over it already without having it badly enough to be in the hospital.”

The Nurse’s office has no plans for testing students and teachers before a potential return to school right now. However, Nelson said, that could change. 

Evans said that he might explore other platforms for online learning, like Zoom, based on student and teacher feedback. The administration and Evans are taking this day by day and have no concrete plans for after spring break yet, but Evans does find it likely that an update on the reopening of school will come out today or at some point over spring break.

The administration sent an email out on March 26 to update the Parker community on its grading system during this period of remote learning. The email quoted the Illinois State Board of Education’s recommendation on grading during the period of remote learning saying, “Student work completed during the mandated statewide school closure must not negatively impact a student’s grades or otherwise impact a student’s academic standing.” 

This means that a student’s grade cannot be worse at the end of remote learning than it was at the beginning. Donohue sees this as a way to alleviate the stress of worrying about the impact coronavirus may have on one’s personal life and an attempt to accomodate to the different environments students are in during remote learning. 

However, she understands that some will take advantage of the system. “I think a percentage of students, and I can understand that, say, well, if none of this stuff matters, why should I even go?,” Donohue said. “Why should I do any of the work? And that’s exactly what I think we’re trying not to have happen.”

Donohue believes in giving students feedback during this time, and she was clear in that she is not against giving grades during this time. She understands that grades are an incentive for some students to progress, and if grades are only in place to maintain or boost one’s grade, students may lose their incentive. “They care about their learning, so I don’t want to send the message that it doesn’t matter,” Donohue said. “The grading policy doesn’t exactly say that it doesn’t matter. But I think some people might interpret it that way.”

It has now been a few weeks since the notice on the grading change, and the possibility of returning to school worsens every day as there are little to no signs of returning to “normal” society. “Of course, we want to be optimistic in the outcomes and a return to school,” Brandon said, “but we also have to be realistic because every day the reality changes.” 

As of March 27, the US is the first country to reach 100,000 cases of coronavirus, and the numbers are not slowing down. By now, students have been away from school for three weeks and in their homes for two, and Nelson hopes that the Parker community really has been listening to the Governor and Mayor by choosing to social distance. Realistically, she knows that not all US citizens have been following that order, and that will have consequences. “I don’t think this is our only pandemic,” she said. “There’ll be another. There’ll be one every so often down the road.”

This story was originally published on The Weekly on April 12, 2020.