Computer with image of school
Not all students will be returning to campus this school year. Approximately 70 students have opted for a distance learning option.

By Ferenc Somogyi ’21

“Uncertainty” was the buzzword of the end of last school year. Amid the raging coronavirus pandemic, distance learning at Saint Ignatius came to an underwhelming halt, with the transition to summer defined, at least for most, as simply closing the laptop and catching a few extra hours of sleep. In reality, summer didn’t feel that special – staying at home everyday no longer seemed out of the ordinary. 

The senior Class of 2020 experienced the most direct impact when it comes to this global pandemic. After the frantic shutdown in March, the seniors endured a series of cancellations that resulted in a lackluster finale to an otherwise normal senior year. Though the class was able to celebrate graduation at the end of July, it failed to portray the camaraderie and success that the Class of ‘20 had built with one another. For one thing, the event itself was held at Wasmer Field rather than the opulent town hall building in downtown Cleveland—breaking a decade-long school tradition.

As summer waned, details about the upcoming school year began to emerge. Teachers tirelessly trained for an expected return to campus. Sports resumed on campus, and after COVID-19 cases emerged among students, shut down and sent many into quarantine. 

Despite all the upheaval, Saint Ignatius opened its doors to students at the end of August with strict new health regulations. All students, faculty, and staff are required to wear masks on campus and comply with social distancing measures. Furthermore, the class schedule itself is greatly altered. There had been rumors before the pandemic that the school was planning on a transition to block scheduling in fall 2020. Instead, to make sure there were never too high a concentration of students on campus at one time, an alternative A/B day block-type schedule was concocted, with two mega-groups of students being formed: Gonzaga and Xavier. These groups were set to follow the same day schedule but alternated times on campus, sometimes coming to school the first half of the day and then coming for the second half of the next. Lunch, free periods, and extracurriculars were altered, too, with large gatherings wisely forbidden in the name of health. 

But not everyone had the same experience for the start of the school year. While most Ignatians found themselves back on campus in September, about 70 opted for a complete virtual learning option for the first semester. These students (myself included) expressed a desire to not return to campus for their own safety or that of their loved ones. For these students, a distance learning option was adopted in which distance learners would still follow their standard A/B – Gonzaga/Xavier schedule, but attend classes through Zoom via live streams. 

Speaking from personal experience, virtual learning has been strange thus far. Though the benefits of not having to wake up an hour and a half before school to commute are tangible, there is a sense of disconnectedness from the normal school activities that I had grown so accustomed to. Nonetheless, teachers and in-person students have done a great job helping distance learners to participate with, in most regards, the rest of the St. Ignatius Community. Personally, I am able to interact with friends, classmates and teachers every day in class. Through this, I am able to take part in some aspects of the lightheartedness, dedication, and camaraderies that define our school. I can raise my hand the way I would normally in class, and work with others in small groups. Honestly, the strangest thing to me is being the only one “in class” not wearing a mask. 

Extracurriculars have also gone mostly online, while sports have resumed in person with multiple safety precautions. The best way to describe the 2020-2021 school year so far is, therefore, as a hybrid experience. No student or teacher is left untouched by the effects of the pandemic. Every student has some sort of virtual (or asynchronous) learning in their lives which, at least in my eyes, seems to bring us closer together even as we remain 6 feet apart. The hope is that the pandemic will pass sooner rather than later, but the road ahead still remains uncertain. School has been in session for five weeks—with God’s help, learning will remain on campus for good. But given the example of sports in the summer, the coronavirus has the potential to spread throughout the student body quickly and turn us all to a “virtual learning” schedule. This all depends on the student’s abilities to follow school precautions. 

Imperative to Saint Ignatius remaining open is the commitment to safety of everyone on campus. The masks and social distancing are essential, and not only at school! Only by consciously keeping ourselves and those around us safe can we prevent COVID-19 from hurting our community. 

As the de facto “saying of 2020” goes, we live in unprecedented times. What is most impressive of our community thus far is the lengths we go to support one another. As a distance learner, I feel that I have just as big a stake in school this year as any of my friends on campus. Teachers on campus are looking out for the safety of their students by wiping down desks between classes. The list could go on. 

Let’s make sure that list never ends, Saint Ignatius. Let’s take care of each other, and in doing so, take care of “our famed Alma Mater.”