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John Adams, Riley high schools pilot return to in-person learning for South Bend Schools

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Two South Bend high schools are testing to see how in-person learning can work again. Riley and John Adams are piloting the return-to-school strategies.

More than 1,000 students walked back into school yesterday-- some for the first time in over a year. Both teachers and students say it was as exciting as that first day of the year, looking to see which friends are in their class.

Who would have thought being in school would be so fun? It's all Junior Matthew Siler has been waiting for.

"Being able to see all my friends, especially friends with the first half of the alphabet I wasn’t able to see because of the hybrid. It’s just been amazing being able to catch up with everyone," said Siler.

Siler has followed the hybrid model, which he says was much better than completely being at home, but nowhere near as fulfilling as being back with everyone.

"Physically being in class just feels much more fulfilling to me than sitting and hearing my teacher talk, even though I know they’re not in the same room as I am."

It’s been a full year since senior Isaac Lee has even stepped foot in the school.

"It just makes everything a lot easier," said Lee. "Like learning is a lot easier when you’re actually in the classroom talking to teachers and figuring stuff out with them instead of at home, procrastinating and sitting around."

"I think it was a constant everyday struggle of getting up, knowing you’re going to be home all day and knowing you still have schoolwork to do," said Siler.

Principal Jim Seitz says they did everything they could to help students but he knows the reality-- students are designed to learn in person.

Even teacher Tom Plasschaert is giddy.

"Some of these kids I’ve never seen before, and I think that was something I really enjoyed yesterday, was I got to put faces with the names," said Plasschaert.

He says even on day two, the difference is huge.

"I was able to see engagement yesterday, because sometimes it’s just a black screen on the other end of the zoom or google meet-- I don’t know exactly what’s going on. Now their body language, their eyes, even head nodding. I don't know how much I took for granted head nodding until yesterday."

It now gives him a chance to really be there for his kids.

"For those who lack communication or lack Internet and things like that-- I get to see them. It’s so much easier to reach out to them this way," said Plasschsert.

Ensuring the classrooms are spaced out and everyone follows safety guidelines, Principal Seitz says 40% of students are finishing the year at home. But he knows this pilot is critical on many levels.

“Our ultimate goal of why we have everyone here at John Adams High School and all of our South Bend Schools is to graduate from high school. And we’re going to work extremely hard to make sure all our students graduate," said Seitz.
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Seitz says Riley and John Adams are working diligently to get this right, because the school board will be looking at them to see how to return the rest of the district to in-person.

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