CINCINNATI — On Wednesday, Walnut Hills' seventh, eighth and ninth grade students were able to return to the classroom for the first time this school year, but for those cautious about returning, a new pilot program is being tested.
For parents like Michelle Forrest, who plans to send her senior back to the halls of Walnut Hills High School, the return is an opportunity for seniors to enjoy many things students have been forced to sacrifice during the pandemic.
"For us, they are being given back part of their senior year," she said. "They didn't have a junior prom. They didn't have homecoming."
For other parents, concerns about the pandemic mean they're not so sure they're ready to let their kids go back to classrooms full-time.
"We had resigned to her going back in and I was convinced we would probably end up getting COVID because of it," said Amy Boyne, whose daughter is a freshman at Walnut Hills High School.
Amy's son has autism and she said his immune system could take a significant hit if he were to get sick. She was concerned her daughter, Audrey, could bring the virus back home from school with her if she were to return to the high school to finish her freshman year.
To Amy's relief, Cincinnati Public Schools is allowing families the option to continue school remotely through a pilot program called Concurrent Learning.
"We got some OWL cameras, which is a 360 degree camera," said Megan Preslin, digital manager for Cincinnati Public Schools. "It has a built-in speaker and the camera will follow the teacher as they are talking, only in a Google Meet or Schoology conference setting."
Preslin said the new technology provides families with a third education option, outside of the school's Digital Academy offerings.
"We're piloting it with Walnut and we are going to learn from them," she said. "We're going to dig in to see some of the challenges and the successes. Really learn from them so that we can build it out for the fall for all of our families."
The new program is great for Audrey, who is studying an advanced Latin course that's not currently provided through the Digital Academy. It also gives parents like Amy peace of mind about vulnerable family members as the pandemic continues.
"This is a novel virus that we still don't know enough about to say there will be no repercussions for my children a year from now, six months from now, should they be infected with mild COVID," said Amy.
The Cincinnati Public Schools board voted to continue in-person learning for five days a week through the 2021 school year. If all goes well with the pilot program, families who want to participate in Concurrent Learning will be able to do so next year. CPS said more information will be sent to parents in the next several weeks.