Some CPS high school seniors feel like freshmen on 1st day back in more than a year
For the first time in 13 months, all 515 non-charter CPS schools were open for in-person learning Monday. High school students had been out the longest.
William Kingsbury is a high school senior, but he said it felt like his very first day as he stepped onto the vast Lane Tech College Prep campus Monday morning.
Kingsbury, 17, said he had no idea what to expect.
“I remember the first week [of lockdown]. Nobody thought it was going to last this long,” he said. “Then a year later, here we are.”
He said he felt a little bit cheated. Before lockdown, he and other members of the robotics team had just finished their project and were getting ready to enter it into a competition. The pandemic killed that dream.
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“It is what it is,” he said. “No one can control it.”
He unzipped his jacket to reveal a freshly laundered shirt.
“There are only 18 days of school,” he said, with smiling eyes. “I’m going to try to make sure I look good for each and every one of those days.”
With about two months left in the school year, the number of in-person days for high schoolers will range from 18 to 37, depending whether their school schedule allows them to attend two or four days each week. That’s out of 178 school days.
Lane Tech was expecting the most students of any high school in the district, 2,100, although they’ll be split into groups and most will attend either Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays.
Freshman Maggie Breede arrived with a backpack, her lacrosse stick and a jittery sense of excitement.
“It’s going to be fun,” she said, moments after her dad dropped her off. “I’ve never actually been inside for a whole day. So I’m probably going to get lost.”
She said she had some reservations about returning, but those melted away now that her grandparents have all been vaccinated.
“I feel more safe about it now,” she said. “I was really just worried about their safety.”
Monday marked the start of the fourth academic quarter for Chicago Public Schools, and for the first time in 13 months all 515 non-charter schools — including high schools — were open for in-person learning.
In total, the district said about 122,000 students were expected back in classrooms. Another 157,000 will continue learning remotely. Officials didn’t immediately release Monday’s attendance numbers.
About 26,000 high school students opted to return to in-person learning.
“We fought very hard for this moment because we felt it was very important and a question of basic equity for our students,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters at Payton College Prep after a tour of the school Monday afternoon. Nearly 900 students are returning to classrooms at Payton, about three-quarters of its student body.
Schools chief Janice Jackson said she was “the happiest I’ve been in a long time today.”
When a reporter began to ask about high schoolers only being in classes a limited number of days with two months left in the school year, Jackson interrupted to remind people “it’s a process.”
“Let’s take stock, because we never celebrate the spaces that we’re in,” Jackson said. “Our kids have been out of school for 13 months. I have been fighting to get kids back in school since the beginning of the school year.
“We had to make sure people were comfortable with our plan. ... I count this as a success. My goal is to have every kid back in school full time. I want to return to normal, whatever that new normal is. But we’re going to celebrate what happened today. We got our kids back in school. Our kids are happy to be back in school.”
Contributing: Nader Issa