Menlo Community Reflects On In-Person and Virtual School


Junior Elizabeth Curtin sets up her desk for the school day. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Curtin.

Sylvie Venuto, News Editor

In anticipation of Menlo’s decision about whether in-person classes will resume in November, members of the Menlo community shared their opinions on the topic. 

The school will decide on new distance learning plans on Oct. 1, according to an email from Head of School Than Healy on Aug. 5. While the school could choose to continue with virtual learning, options for resuming in-person classes include a hybrid schedule — with half the students online and half on campus — or a complete return to in-person classes. These changes could be implemented as early as Nov. 1, according to Healy’s email.

Some, such as English teacher Dr. Rachel Blumenthal, would like to continue all-online classes. “It would alleviate the added anxiety boost of worrying about health concerns for me, personally,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal also underscored that the hybrid-style learning might not be as effective as some think it would be. “Although online learning has its drawbacks, I do appreciate that we are able to have some form of face-to-face communication that’s not inhibited by masks or social distancing. In some ways, I feel like, though not perfect, the online world does facilitate more communication and social bonding in class than I imagine a kind of hybrid model would allow for,” Blumenthal said.

For others, such as math teacher Danielle Jensen who has a sophomore daughter at Menlo, a switch to the hybrid schedule would be preferable. “Of course I would love all in-person learning, but I feel like there’s no way that’s going to happen at the point we are at, and so my preference would be to at least get some kids on campus starting Nov. 1,” Jensen said.

Junior Elizabeth Curtin echoed Jensen’s sentiment, saying that when school is all-online, the “cornerstones of the Menlo experience” — such as interacting with friends on the quad or watching a sports game — are lost.

“I feel like all the joy has been sucked up. As my own children say, it’s like all the school with none of the fun parts,” Jensen emphasized.

Director of Data Management and Research for Development Vidya Kagan, whose daughter is a junior at Menlo and whose son is in eighth grade at Hillview Middle School, also pinpointed key aspects of the Menlo experience that are lost during all-online school.

Kagan believes that online school eliminates in-person connections between students, teachers, coaches and staff. “[In-person connections] are such a huge part of the Menlo experience, and it’s all missing,” Kagan said. While Kagan acknowledged the Zoom and FaceTime meetings that students share together, she also drew attention to the drawbacks of online interactions. “There’s nothing to replace that in-person connection, sitting with each other, having lunch, playing games or having the teacher look at your writing on paper. There’s nothing like that in the online format,” she said.

Kagan also highlighted that certain classes are difficult to teach in the online format, a point that Jensen also brought up. “As a math teacher, a huge part of my role in teaching and helping kids is walking around the classroom and seeing how they’re doing, so that I can interject. That can’t happen in the online environment, or it’s at least very hard to do so. I feel like there is learning happening, but it isn’t to the extent that I want it to be,” Jensen said.

In addition, Jensen reasoned that some students have been disproportionately affected by the social-emotional difficulties at-home school rather than by the coronavirus and that the anti-virus measures Menlo has taken are effective. Menlo parent Christina Tudor, who has a freshman son and junior daughter, has similar beliefs, but she wishes to return to completely in-person school. “It’s important to be healthy and safe, but I think we’ve learned that if we follow certain protocols and we get back to school, we can get life going, and if someone does get sick, they can stay home. I just think it’s important. The downfall [in] mental health and physically for people just to be home all the time is not good. I think we have to push the envelope a little bit and try to get back to real life — and just be really careful along the way,” Tudor said.

Each community member interviewed concluded with a similar statement of praise for the school’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “I’m very thankful to be at Menlo at this time, because I felt a lot of care and caution going into this process and imagining what the next steps might be if we do take them,” Blumenthal said.