Last year, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) students had the option to choose their academic model for the year. The hybrid model allowed two days of in-person learning and two days of online learning on the video-chatting app, Zoom. The Irvine Virtual Academy (IVA) model was strictly online learning. Some students at the elementary school level had the option to return to a traditional in-person model.

For the 2021-2022 school year, IUSD has moved towards a return to ‘normalcy’ with its academic model selections. The IVA model is still available this year for families who choose to opt-out of the traditional in-person learning. With the new state mandates, IUSD still requires students and staff to wear masks at all times indoors, but masks are currently not required outdoors. In accordance with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidelines, IUSD has also modified the physical distancing rule, allowing K-12 schools to go back to traditional in-person learning for five days a week.

Irvine High School

Irvine High School senior Annabelle Wu was a part of the IVA model last year. Going back to traditional learning this year, Wu has been most looking forward to being able to perform and attend competitions for the school’s marching band. “Even though there were some setbacks in teacher and peer communication [last year], I was able to adjust to the online environment really quickly. There were pros in being able to access the class within a few minutes and not having to prepare as much in the morning, but it was definitely more difficult connecting with classmates since there were so many students from other schools I was unfamiliar with,” Wu said.

Wu hopes that during her last year, classes will progress smoothly as things settle down and that she is able to experience new opportunities while making memories with her friends. “I believe it will be a little harder to adjust to in-person classes and interacting with more people, but I hope to overcome them through time and patience,” Wu said.

Woodbridge High School

Woodbridge High School senior Sarah Shelly is hoping that senior activities like dances and grad night come back this year. In-person graduation is an essential senior activity that Shelly wishes for the most as she believes it is a way to not only celebrate their hard work and dedication, but is a final goodbye as seniors send each other off into the future. “I definitely felt more isolated and lonely through online learning as it was more difficult to make connections with people. I enjoy talking with my classmates and sharing ideas but online learning made this difficult. [Because of this,] I did feel like the student population became more divided…” Shelly said. She continued: “However, online learning did help me in some ways as I learned more about myself. The pandemic has truly allowed me to grow and reflect on myself and my goals. I learned how to make the best of any situation and maintain a positive attitude. This was very important for me and helped me get through this time.”

Shelly feels excited to be back to in-person learning, but also overwhelmed at the prospect of having to navigate through senior year and completing her college applications. To cope with this stress, Shelly plans to spend some of her time outdoors and wants to stay organized by using a planner. “Last year, I attended most of my classes completely online, so this is my first time attending all of my classes in-person since the beginning of the pandemic. This makes me a little nervous [because] it has been a while since I interacted face-to-face with most of my classmates or stayed in school for most of the day, but I am excited because I love being able to collaborate and work with my classmates and teachers in-person,” Shelly said.

IUSD parent Marlene Lewis hopes that her daughter will be able to attend school and participate in more in-person activities all while staying safe. “Online learning was fine; it was more of the socialization aspect that was the issue. Fortunately my child did the hybrid model which allowed two days of peer interaction which was far more beneficial then zero interaction or only Zoom interaction,” Lewis said.

Lewis thanks IUSD for being proactive by getting their students back in school and in making sure these students feel supported as their education is their top priority. Lewis’s daughter is a senior, so she is excited to feel a sense of normalcy again for her last year in IUSD. “So many other districts were strictly online almost the entire school year of 2020/2021. We were fortunate to have options. IUSD made all of the necessary requirements, plus more, in order to get the kids in class; I know our district set them up for success last year and moving forward,” Lewis said.

Though the return to traditional learning has been challenging and a bit overwhelming, many are hoping that this is the new beginning to bringing normalcy back in this pandemic-affected learning environment. In-person learning is fundamental this school year to compensate for the learning time lost last year and for students to be fully equipped with the necessary skills for success.