Students flooded the sidewalks outside Pocatello High School after the lunch bell rang Wednesday.
For only the third time this school year, the entire student body had packed the building for classes.
Pocatello-Chubbuck is one of several large Idaho school districts to recently shift back to a fully in-person instruction model amid declines in confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The district’s grade schoolers were already learning fully in-person. Its secondary students have been on a hybrid model all school year, attending classes in one of two cohorts twice a week and participating remotely the rest of the time.
Up until Monday, when teens returned full-time.
The change was welcomed news for some. Not so much for others.
“I didn’t want to come back,” senior Emily Lee said en route to a parking lot across the street from the school.
Hybrid learning has freed up time for Lee to pursue other endeavors this school year. The senior boosted her income by cleaning short-term rentals and an elderly woman’s home in her spare time. And balancing work with remote learning didn’t impact her grades, she said.
“I can get done in an hour-and-a-half at home what I can do in six hours at school. (In-person instruction) might be better for, like, freshman and sophomores,” she added, before slipping into her car and driving off to lunch.
An aspiring engineer, Sophomore Ben Pope’s class schedule demands “lots of hands-on” learning, which is “hard to do” through a computer screen. Pope’s grades slipped — “slightly” — amid months of mostly remote learning. All and all, he’s “glad to be back” participating in an engineer-prep program offered through the school.
Other students noted the social benefits of returning full-time. Junior Rayden Hendricks enjoyed lunch with a friend in a car across the street.
For Hendricks, a self-described video gamer, returning to class full-time has also reduced distractions he regularly encountered learning from home. “There’s no Call of Duty in class,” he said from the passenger’s seat, referring to the first-person shooter video game.
It’s also “been nice” getting out of the house more, Hedricks added.
Business teacher Joseph Pollard said watching students shift back into a more typical social regimen has been refreshing. While the academic impacts of hybrid learning have been a concern, he worries more about how months of isolation and disrupted social lives have impacted students’ mental health.
“I’m in support of kids being back full-time,” he said between classes, though he acknowledged that not all teachers agree.
Pocatello-Chubbuck’s teacher’s union has urged caution amid plans to let kids return in full. Educators in other parts of the state have pushed back harder. The West Ada School District’s teachers union rallied hundreds of educators to call in sick to protest in-person learning earlier this school year, prompting district-wide shutdowns.
Still, despite the lingering pandemic, Pollard feels the full return is good for kids at Pocatello High — and for its educators.
“It’s a lot easier to get to know them and establish relationships with them when they’re actually here,” he said.