For a year and a half, the physical classrooms and hallways of the English Learning Center remained strangely quiet. At first, it was hard not knowing how long the quarantine would last or whether our online curriculum would remain useful beyond a few months. Then, as the pandemic wore on, it was equally hard not to look forward to the day when things might return to “normal.” Now, we have a much better sense of what that normal will be.
Last spring, we surveyed all current students and volunteer teachers to learn how they feel about returning to school in-person this fall. Surprisingly, 48 percent of the lower-level students surveyed wished to continue learning online. Many have found online classes to be more accessible, as the need for childcare and transportation disappears with the click of a button. Distance learning meets the needs of students who are caring for young children or elderly family members or who have mobility issues or chaotic work schedules.
Online learning has also given us a unique perspective into students’ lives. One day, the Level 5 class sang “Happy Birthday” to a student’s son, who popped in to say hi on his special day. In another class, while learning new vocabulary for natural tea remedies, one stumped student declared, “Wait, teacher!” She rushed to her kitchen and brought back fresh ginger to show the class, before everyone practiced pronouncing and writing the word in English together.
A long awaited return
For some, however, the year-long wait to return in-person has prompted a lengthy break from school. Hearing from many dedicated students we have not seen since the pandemic began, it was clear that our physical space could not be forgotten. In fact, over 80 percent of upper-level students surveyed preferred to resume classes in person.
We’re taking these diverse needs and the unique benefits and challenges of each format into account as we plan the next chapter for the ELC. A limited amount of in-person classes began with the fall semester on September 7th. We’re also continuing to offer all levels of English instruction online. We are eager to welcome back those who may have lapsed in their studies over the past year, while also looking to expand our online offerings.
The upcoming school year will bring new challenges, as our staff supports both in-person and online programs and our volunteer teacher needs expand. However, we’re happy to offer our students more ways to learn and are confident it is the right path forward. As staff member Mohamed says, “There might be a lot of change for returning students. They have been waiting for a long time for this moment, and we are not the same school as we were before. But we will be ready for them!”
“There might be a lot of change for returning students. They have been waiting for a long time for this moment, and we are not the same school as we were before. But we will be ready for them!”