Franklin Community High School teacher Alicia Geesey is excited about returning to a sense of normalcy this fall after more than a year of pandemic learning.
Geesey teaches agriculture to ninth through 12th graders, and part of the appeal of her class is that it is hands-on — usually.
Last year, Franklin students were in the classroom part-time, but COVID restrictions meant they couldn’t go on any field trips, and guest speakers could only talk to the class through Zoom.
“When I’m just talking, it doesn’t have the same impact as when you can go to a horse farm or you can go to a cattle farm or you can have a producer come into the classroom and talk,” Geesey said. “I also have dog trainers that’ll come and bring their dogs in. Having those kinds of experiences are so impactful, and it gets the kids thinking about potential career opportunities.”
At the end of last school year, several Indiana districts started bringing back in-person events like proms and graduations, but many continued to restrict field trips and other activities. This coming school year will look different for a lot of students — at least for now. With COVID delta variant cases rising and vaccination for younger students still months away, restrictions could change.
Like many states, Indiana officials have left the decision about COVID guidelines to individual districts and schools. Indianapolis Public Schools decided to resume in-person activities with various caveats, such as suggesting that all staff and students wear masks indoors, but allowing student athletes to skip wearing masks during games or practices. The guidance didn’t mention field trips.
Franklin Community High School will encourage students and staff to sanitize frequently and distance when possible, but masks will be optional, said Principal Steve Ahaus in an email. “Our school district has decided to go back to activities as normal,” he said. “We are not restricting visitors, field trips, fairs, or any activities.”
In addition to field trips, Geesey said her students like to visit the elementary schools and teach mini-agriculture classes to younger students. Last year, they improvised with a YouTube channel, but she said classroom visits are more beneficial to both the older and younger students.
“It’s just a fun way for the high school kids to get to connect with the elementary school kids, and it gets the elementary school kids really excited about where their food comes from,” Geesey said.
Muncie Community Schools will begin classes a week after Indianapolis Public Schools, but the district won’t release plans for in-person events and activities until late July, chief communications officer Andy Klotz said via email.
Carmel Clay Schools will decide individually which activities they’ll bring back, according to director of community relations Emily Bauer. “At this time, we expect in-person activities to commence,” Bauer said in an email, adding, “there will be some restrictions including no lunchtime visitors.”
At the end of last school year, Noblesville Schools began to transition to in-person events such as a multi-part graduation with an outdoor in-person breakfast for graduates followed by a parade and a drive-in viewing of a virtual graduation to accommodate different comfort levels. This year, the district plans to return to field trips, clubs, open houses, and more — starting with a back-to-school event on July 30, which has had around 8,000 attendees in the past.
COVID vaccination rates in Indiana are slowly rising, with about half of the population 12 and older fully vaccinated. About 19% of 12- to 15-year-olds are vaccinated and 33% of 16- to 19-year-olds.
In Johnson County, where Franklin Community High School is located, vaccination rates are a little higher than the state average. Geesey hopes they’ll keep rising and more of her students will be able to get vaccinated.
She said she still worries about COVID spreading in the community, especially with the return of in-person activities. Fortunately, the field trips on which she takes her students mostly fit within current COVID health guidelines. “It’s mostly outdoors and lots of open space, so hopefully that will help things,” she said.
For many, the benefits of a return to normalcy for students outweigh the risk, at least for now. Geesey doesn’t want to see her students miss out on another year of meeting new people and being out in the world. Sometimes a field trip or guest speaker can have a big impact on a teenager.
“A big thing for kids imagining and dreaming of what they want to do after high school can come from that connection they have with that one person on that one day,” Geesey said. “It can spark something in a high school student and drive them forward. I love when I can create those connections between my kids and adults in our community.”