Students in the Berkley School District have been able to return for in-person instruction since February. A full-time return to in-person learning five days a week is now available for students who wish to be in their schools every day.

Students in the Berkley School District have been able to return for in-person instruction since February. A full-time return to in-person learning five days a week is now available for students who wish to be in their schools every day.

Photo provided by the Berkley School District


Berkley students open up on attending classes in-person, virtually

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published March 22, 2021

 Though students can return to learning in-person, Berkley High School senior Jaden Milton felt more comfortable continuing her education virtually to protect her family’s health.

Though students can return to learning in-person, Berkley High School senior Jaden Milton felt more comfortable continuing her education virtually to protect her family’s health.

Photo provided by Jaden Milton

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BERKLEY — Throughout the month of February, students in the Berkley School District were given the option to return to in-person instruction at their respective school buildings.

The district’s Board of Education previously approved its Learning Plan Update in January that gave students and their families the choice of either continuing a virtual education at home or participating in various models that allowed for students to attend school at their school buildings. For the middle and high school students, that was a hybrid model in which they attended in person on select days and livestreamed in on the others.

It was the first time since March 2020 that students even had the option to return to their school buildings, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ever since, every class they’ve attended has been over Zoom.

Jaden Milton, a senior at Berkley High School from Lathrup Village, was one of many students who had to decide whether or not she wanted to return to school. The decision was hard for her, as she was quite upset in the fall when instruction stayed online because she was looking forward to her final year of high school.

When it came time to make the decision, the 17-year-old Milton was leaning toward returning, but another wave of coronavirus cases hitting Michigan and new variants popping up led her to stay virtual.

“It just seemed like not the proper choice in order to keep not only myself, but my parents safe,” she said. “My brother has asthma, my dad has underlying conditions and I would rather stay home and maybe be missing out than give something to my family.”

Milton’s virtual education has had its ups and downs. She has taken a lot of Advanced Placement classes this year, which gave her a hefty course load. It also was hard for her to learn how to manage her time differently, because she was learning in her room, not in the school.

She stated that there was “no longer that distinction between school and me-time.”

“It kind of felt like all in one,” said Milton. “I think for a while I was kind of doing all school and focusing only on school and not taking care of myself. Because I wasn’t obviously in school seeing my friends, it was also hard to maintain the relationships I had built throughout high school. It was kind of lonely and hard.”

Milton has been able to acclimate to her workload more, and she’s had an easier time staying on schedule with her work. She said though, as she’s getting to the end of the year, she’s lost a lot of steam and the work has felt optional to her because she’s not in the school building.

The amount of time Milton has had to herself has allowed for much introspection, which gave way to positive developments for her personally.

“That’s something that’s been very valuable to me throughout my time in quarantine; my newfound relationship with myself, and that’s been pretty dope,” she said.

For the students who did return to in-person instruction, they’ve had a whole different set of circumstances to acclimate to, with socially distanced classrooms and face masks part of their new reality.

Senior Matthew Doctoroff said his decision to return to Berkley High School was for three reasons. The first was his desire to spend part of his last year with his friends and teachers “just to get that last experience of high school.”

Doctoroff, a 17-year-old from Huntington Woods, is also the editor-in-chief of his school newspaper, something he had wanted for a long time. Being in charge of the paper was of great significance to him and, as his favorite class, it was something he wanted to be in-person for during his senior year.

Getting out of his home was also a big reason for Doctoroff. He said he felt like he’s been in a cave for six months while attending school.

“I feel very isolated and secluded in this area, and being able to leave the house every day in the morning and interact with people, it’s been really good for, I think, my mental health because I don’t feel as trapped,” he said. “Just being outside and being able to talk, even though it sounds like such a normal activity or such a normal thing to do, it’s been such a significant change for me.”

Back in September, Doctoroff was able to get his schoolwork done, but he quickly realized, in terms of retention of what he’s learning, it differed from in-person instruction. He said he started to recognize he wasn’t fully comprehending all of his school topics. And while his teachers were doing their best, it didn’t give him the full learning experience he’s had in past years.

“Socially, there was just a very clear disconnect,” he’s said. “It’s pretty self-explanatory, but when you’re on a screen with 30 other black screens, there’s nothing really going on there. And it’s a little bit saddening, but it’s not stimulating to the academic experience either.”

On March 15, the Board of Education voted to approve a Learning Plan Update that meant students now have the option to return to a full-time, five-days-a-week schedule that began the week of March 22.

Originally, the district was looking at April for this option, but a bill passed by the Michigan Legislature and signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stated that a district must offer students 20 hours of in-person instruction each week beginning March 22 if it wants to be eligible for federal stimulus dollars. Berkeley is eligible for approximately $1.8 million.

With the board’s decision to give students the new option of returning to school in-person and full-time, families in the district have yet another decision to make for the rest of the school year.

Doctoroff will be continuing his education with full-time instruction. He debated the risks of spending more time around others in the school. He called it a drawback, but he still thinks it will be a better environment for him than being at home.

“I just think it makes more logical sense to sign up for the full-time plan, and then if you’re ever not feeling safe or not feeling like going in to school, then just go virtual because they can’t really stop you from not going in to school,” he said. “That just made more sense to me.”

Milton, on the other hand, will not be going back to the school. While returning full-time seemed desirable, it would have only been a desirable option for her if it also felt like the safe option.

“I know that the opportunity came about because the school was offered money, and I don’t know, that doesn’t seem like the safe option to me,” she said. “Like (COVID) numbers are still kind of high and it still doesn’t seem safe, and the whole money thing was something that threw me off. I would be down if we were bringing kids back to the school because it was safer, but not because they were being offered money and if they don’t open up the school, then they won’t get the money. That’s just kind of weird to me.”

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