Starting Off Fresh: The Class of 2024 and A Persisting Pandemic


By Razina Ahmed, Academics Editor

The ongoing joke of last semester that Zoom University may become a reality for students was not expected to come true. Starting in August of 2020, the Niles West Class of 2024 was set to begin their high school experience in person, but soon D219 announced that the fall semester of the 2020-2021 academic school year would be conducted virtually.

The decision for beginning the year with remote learning was made in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced thousands of schools across the nation to reconsider their reopening plans. D219 was to switch to in-person instruction following Labor Day weekend. Families across both districts were anxious regarding how the student body would adjust to this type of school setting. Multiple factors soon played a role in why the administration stuck to online-instruction.

“The initial plan was to slowly provide on-site instruction for our students with modifications and accommodations (students with IEPS and 504s),” Dr. Antwan Babakhani, Assistant Principal of Student Services, said. “The decision to stay fully remote is multifaceted. It depends on national and state infection rates, CDC space capacity recommendations, IDPH recommendations, teacher survey responses, student survey responses, parent survey responses, and what other neighboring districts are doing.”

For the freshmen class, this came at a crucial time when their high school careers were just beginning. From choosing the best classes to deciding which extracurriculars were right for them, the overall adjustment was incredibly overwhelming. Administrators at West sought to develop relationships with the underclassmen as if they were meeting in-person.

Steve Parnther, Assistant Principal of Operations, reflected on the ways in which administration geared students to build relationships with their peers and staff. “Before the school year started, we had our freshmen engage in orientation and textbook pick-up,” Parnther said. “Each freshman received masks and t-shirts to create a sense of belonging to our school community. We will continue to check-in with our freshmen through-out this semester to ensure they’re having a great year.”

Transfer students at West were taken into consideration as well. “Finally, we had a transfer student orientation for students who recently transferred in (most of our students in this group are immigrants),” Babakhani said.

For new staff at West, the challenge came with not only helping students adjust but understanding how to navigate the situation on their own. For former Niles North educator and new counselor Bashar Jazrawi, the focus was on a positive mindset and tackling any issue head-on.

“If you remember your time from being a freshman, you always remember a connection you made with someone, whether that be a teacher, counselor, friend, that made your experience easier. I had a good support system with the Guidance Department and other counselors that had expertise in their own fields,” Jazrawi said. “Learning came from not being afraid to ask questions. I would contact counselors at West and North and ask, “What would you guys do in this situation?”

For the freshmen themselves, the experience was daunting, no doubt. Addressing technology issues and keeping up with schedules became a cause of concern.

“It was very difficult during the first week, but eventually I got used to it,” Ylonah Hasal, a freshman at West, said. “Some struggles I encountered was that some of my zoom links were not working the way I wanted them to.”

For Hasal, staff members played a key role in making sure she felt welcomed at school. She hopes to see more plans with her class made throughout the year. “I would like to see some fun and engaging activities to keep us happy about what’s in store for us in our high school career,” Hasal said.