Massanutten Regional Governor’s School goes hybrid

Juniors attend the Governors School on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They work socially distant while wearing masks.

Photo Courtesy By Kate Kirwan

Juniors attend the Governor’s School on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They work socially distant while wearing masks.

Silas Spears, Online Editor in Chief

Senior Stella Alexiou ended last year virtually and started this year virtually. However, that quickly changed when Massanutten Regional Governor’s School, MRGS, decided to allow students to participate in person. About halfway into the first semester, they switched to hybrid learning, where the students are partly online and partly in person. Going hybrid created a new environment,benefiting the students and allowing them to have those in-person connections that have not been possible.

Along with a handful of other HHS students, Alexiou is a member of MRGS and feels that she has not had a real senior year, but going hybrid has changed that. Alexiou can get back a little bit of that high school experience.

“I like [going hybrid] better. I am not going to complain. I did like being able to sleep in and do school from home. But at the same time, it is my senior year so having some in-person school makes it feel more like my senior year, whereas all my other classes do not feel like school to me. So having that in-person instruction has helped make it feel more real,” Alexiou said.

Due to MRGS being in person, the school has to be careful and follow COVID-19 restrictive guidelines so that the students and staff are safe at all times. Environmental Science teacher Russell Kohrs makes sure that his class is sanitized and safe while teaching. Because of the precautions, the seniors and juniors do not go to school on the same days.

“[Class] is scheduled so we see the seniors on Tuesdays and Thursdays and juniors on Mondays and Wednesdays. The research day, Friday, is alternated between juniors and seniors,” Kohrs said “We only have ten students in a classroom, [and] they are all separated by ten feet. They are also wearing masks the entire time that they are here. Some of them even double up with masks and so forth. Our student body is generally very responsible about [staying safe]. Other precautions, of course, [include] spraying down stuff after use or anytime students touch anything. We spray and wipe down doorknobs and tables. I have to wear a mask the entire time. I have students who I wear a special face shield for, not just a regular one but one that has a guard around it. I do this so they can see me [because] some students might be hearing impaired and might need to see one’s mouth. There have been some accommodations we have had to think about and workaround.”

This year has been a lot different in MRGS than last year for Alexiou. A few opportunities do not happen anymore; collaborations with other students are lacking this year.

“In the previous years, Governor’s School used to be a lot more collaborative. [For example,] if you were in one class you could always walk to another class and ask the teacher questions. A lot of the times we would have group projects in which one teacher would collaborate with another teacher and so it would be a project for both of the classes. We used to be able to walk around to do all that, but this year the classes are a lot more distanced from the rest of the classes. We are a lot more separate which is a stark difference,” Alexiou said.

Because students are unable to collaborate, that means group projects are out of the question. Alexiou misses being able to work with her classmates at MRGS. Even though Alexiou cannot collaborate with peers at school, she has made time to volunteer outside of school with juniors.

“I miss having the group projects that we used to have, [like] the hands-on stuff that we can’t have now because of social distancing. I miss being able to see the juniors. The senior and junior interaction at Governor’s School is a pretty profound feature that we have at Governor’s School. It is cool to mentor the juniors and have seniors mentor you as a junior. And since the seniors and juniors are divided this year, we don’t have that interaction, so I do not get to see the juniors, which kind of sucks,” Alexiou said.

One big thing that MRGS students are missing this year is the field experience that they normally would have. Field experiences and getting out into the world and actually doing things are huge parts of Governors School.

“We are pretty good at teaching what we would normally teach for content. We have been striving to provide the same content and skill development that we would normally want to provide. The only limitation is actually getting out on field and doing some stuff hands on. It is just not possible for us to get on busses and go places to do stuff on the field. But really we are not sacrificing anything,” Kohrs said. “We are trying to keep the traditional Governor’s School as much as we can. It has been tough, of course, because we cannot collaborate as deeply as we would normally do. Students also cannot mix and move around as easily, or at all for the most part. That has all been challenging,” Kohrs said.

Kohrs creates virtual experiences for the students due to the lack of being able to go out to experience and learn.

“But the biggest loss is the loss of field experiences because that is critical to a couple of our classes. One thing I have been trying to do to adapt to is the creation of virtual field experiences using a bunch of cool photography, video, 360° pans and things like that to try and replicate experiences. It takes a lot of work especially when you are trying to turn it into a storyline that can live on its own where I am not presenting myself directly. The students can click on a link and they can go and check it out. They have it on their phone so they can go and move around, they can put on VR goggles if they happen to have those at home. It takes a lot to put this all together. But it does not replicate everything. You cannot get your hands dirty as easily. You are not getting in the water, You are not doing the same chemical testing or putting probes in the water, whatever the situation is. There is a lot of stuff getting lost this year that is normally pivotal or critical to the way we do things here, because of being [hybrid].”

Being hybrid is not entirely different from full on virtual classes aside from the face-to-face interaction available. The teachers still have to make sure that all material is available to students in a learning management system, e.g., Canvas and Google Classroom.

“There is a learning management system, so we have to have material available for students there all the time, no matter what the situation is. I only see [each group of] students once a week so the balance of the time I would normally see them is considered all online. Now, we do still have students who are fully online as well in some cases,” Kohrs said.

Students at the Massanutten Regional Governor’s school are all currently working on their research projects.

“Every student in Governor’s School has to have a research project. There is a wide variety of topics they end up working on. I would say they work with mostly science-based projects. I have students designing water filtration systems. I have a student who is taking cave data of speleothem oxidized. Using the data of speleothem creating musical pieces with it, air quality monitoring, all kinds of interesting things are the projects that they are working on,” Kohrs said “Of course, I have colleagues who also have students who are doing things as well. The students can pretty much choose what they want to pursue, and that still exists. We have been doing it but we have not been able to meet with students quite as often because it is every other Friday. [Research projects] a critical piece that is a part of what we do here.” 

Alexiou believes that her learning has not been inhibited or stalled at all. She really likes being able to go in-person but sees the challenges with being hybrid. 

“It has actually been much better. Going hybrid has really helped my learning. Definitely compared to the beginning of the year where we were all virtual, it has made such a difference being able to go back in person and having those teacher and student interactions. But compared to last year [where it was in person], I am not necessarily learning less, but I have less time to grasp the work,” Alexiou said.