To say that the 2020-2021 school year has been, and will continue to be, different, is an understatement. The COVID-19 crisis has shattered the school routine we once knew and brought on one full of masks, hand sanitizer, and reminders to stay 1.5 meters apart. Even after dealing with months of online learning full time and a six-week state of emergency issued by the Japanese government last spring, students at ASIJ are still limited to being on campus two out of every four days.
The hybrid learning model was unheard of before the outbreak of COVID-19. Unlike online learning, which many students partake in whether there is a viral pandemic or not, a hybrid approach is unique to today’s circumstances.
Many students might grumble about still having to learn online almost nine months into this global pandemic, but Ellie Reidenbach, a junior at ASIJ, says that people should “realize the privilege that we have to be able to go to school at all.“
Even going to campus for half of the time is more than some students get. In the U.S., five states have ordered regional school closures and both Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico have either delayed or closed campuses for all schools in their region.
Japanese schools, on the other hand, have fully opened up, letting students return to a normal school year. Of course, Japan has received a significantly smaller blow from COVID-19 than the U.S.
The biggest concern with all of these various approaches and timelines is the safety of everyone involved. For students at ASIJ, safety measures have been boiled down to four main points, or “Ws“ as they have been deemed: Wear a mask, Wash your hands, Watch your distance, and Work together.
While the recent survey done by the school revealed that over 73% of students and 84% of parents feel quite safe or extremely safe with the precautions for on-campus school days, there seems to be some ambiguity in the student body around what will happen if someone in the ASIJ community does test positive.
The Roadmap for Reopening, sent out to parents before the start of this school year, may clear up some questions about COVID response. In a section specifically about ASIJ’s response to a positive case, the document details a predetermined procedure.
First, the entire family of the COVID-positive person will get tested. For each positive result, ASIJ will conduct its own contact tracing and exposure footprint investigation. Once that process has finished, a team of administrators and faculty members on the Crisis Response Team will meet to choose one of the following three options.
Either there is no change to the way school is operating, a few limited changes, or a massive overhaul of the learning model—most likely a return to distance learning full time. We have yet to see if the Crisis Response Team will be needed.
One of ASIJ’s high school science teachers, Michael Bell, commented, “I [do] think the aspect of social distancing remains a challenge.” Even with a reduced number of students on campus and more spaced out classrooms, Mr. Bell says he is constantly telling students in the hallways and at lunch to keep their distance.
Emma Liu, a freshman, added, “I know the school is trying their best to keep us safe, but I don’t think the students are.“ She pointed out that many students will follow protocols in front of teachers, but are less vigilant when no one is looking.
“They will be really close to each other and the teacher is like, ‘Back up,’ but once the teacher leaves, they will group back together.” Emma also said she was worried about what students are doing outside of school.
Another freshman at ASIJ, Zayne Gladsen, mentioned a specific event called 1 Wave Tokyo. 1 Wave is a group of adults who throw parties in downtown Tokyo that are frequently attended by students from multiple schools including ASIJ. Recently, 1 Wave threw a house party last Friday, September 18th. Many ASIJ students were quick to denounce it.
“To be disregarding the safety of everyone around you for the momentary gratification of going out to see your friends is selfish,“ Kokoro Igawa, a junior at ASIJ, said when asked about the recent party.
“The fear is having it spread,“ Mr. Bell said, highlighting the fact that younger kids and students may not be affected by COVID-19 much, but higher-risk members of our community such as elderly people or people with preexisting conditions could get very sick.
“We have to think about other people, now more than ever, because parties are still going to happen after COVID has died down,“ Kokoro emphasized.
The day of the 1 Wave party, Dr. Augustine—ASIJ’s new associate principal in the high school—sent out an email to all high school students calling for them to avoid such events.
“Please do your part and keep our community safe,“ Dr. Augustine wrote.