Admin Interview - “Behind the Scenes” of Reopening School

Sahiba Kaur

In this time of uncertainty, I hope that this article, where I interviewed Mr. Syed, will help inform and ease some students’ and faculty’s worries about the administration's role in student’s safety. I asked Mr. Syed a total of five questions regarding an overview of the hybrid system, student and faculty safety, students who chose not to come to school, whether those overseas are advised to return to India, and the significant changes the hybrid system has undergone.

Over the last 6+ months since the school first shut down, what part of planning the hybrid model has taken the majority of the time/been the most difficult? (eg. Discovering, discussing, and pinpointing practical ideas, acquiring feedback from other schools, waiting on the government’s go-ahead, etc.)

For this question, Mr. Syed first summarized the events which ensued after the school shut down in March. Over the summer and the end of the last school year, Mr. Kitch and Mr. Syed collected data from international schools in China who were already operating online. During that time, it became apparent that the next school year would be going online. Hence, the admin worked closely with the teachers to ensure they knew and understood how all the technology would be used, and the preliminary schedule which the students and faculty would follow (i.e. no work Wednesday). When school was getting prepared to get the senior students back to campus, they were unable to due to Delhi government restrictions which were out of their control. I feel it is necessary to comment that the government is the most unpredictable factor, so even if the AES campus is fully ready to house students, the government may not allow it. Mr. Syed also mentioned that the hybrid system is always evolving. The school board can plan, revise, and correct this model, but unforeseen issues will inevitably surface when school “officially” starts.

Was there ever a point where you felt it would not be possible to implement a hybrid model to protect the students’ safety? If so, what made you overcome this doubt?

The most significant concern Mr. Syed has is how easy and fast the virus can transmit (i.e., it can be spread through touching the same thing an infected person has.) So, if you do not know how fast the virus transmits, you have to figure out a system that implements everything. One can plan and plan some more the hybrid system or the academical approach, but the science is not that easy. Hence, the school contacted the international SOS, which works with multiple international schools and companies, hired, and helped with the scientific perspective. They also reached the CDC of the American embassy and to further understand the challenges and solutions. By the end of August, Mr. Syed felt comfortable enough to say that the hybrid system could be implemented.

How would you respond to high school students who feel unsafe about coming to school and risking getting sick in some of the most critical times hence far?

Mr. Syed explained that the school board and admin are trying to offer students an opportunity to come back to school; it will not be an obligation. “As an international community, we have to be respectful and understand that everyone has different needs, and not everyone is as comfortable coming back,” said Mr. Syed. “We realize that we can keep students safe if they choose to come back, but again it depends on their level of comfort.”

All in all, students who choose to come or remain online are equally respected. Hence, emphasis will be placed on informing teachers that both groups of students receive an equal quality of education.

What are the significant changes the hybrid model has undergone to offer the utmost safety to the students/faculty?

Two significant changes the hybrid model went through included how students would be brought back to campus and how materials would be distributed among students. Initially, students would return by entire grade levels, however, classes would be too large to manage while maintaining adequate safety protocols. As such, they changed the model to having students attend in two groups as designated by their last name. Furthermore, the Breezeway will not be accessible for hanging out, but tiger turf and open areas will be given that 6 feet of distance are maintained. Basically, students should not be in enclosed spaces unless they are told to. Additionally, contact sports and art classes will not be taking place this semester, as the question of “how would students share the materials arises.”

How did you go about taking into account the needs of international students and faculty? Do you feel that it is essential they all return shortly?

Yes, was the answer Mr. Syed gave; students should come back to India as soon as possible. Even if they chose not to continue online school, the issue of time zones would be resolved and multiple problems i.e teachers having to schedule a separate time for students abroad, or students abroad only have asynchronous lessons which may not be as beneficial to their learning, that come with it would be abolished. Furthermore, if all students are in the same country, they can communicate and socialize with their peers much better.