By Anna Dubey ‘21, Editor-in-Chief
On September 16th and 17th, students attended the first day of school in the Heschel building, separated in pods of eight to thirteen students. Each Heschel student has been placed in two pods, all carefully crafted by a group of faculty including the department chairs and School Psychologist and Director of Student Services Bonnie Altman.
To create the 10th and 11th grade pods, the group began with considering the students’ math and science placement. “We put like learners together,” explained Altman. They attempted to group together the students with roughly similar learning skills in the classes. The second pods were not “tracked,” or based on similar learning skills. The goal was to provide students with at least one friend across the two pods. 10th- and 11th-graders filled out a survey to indicate their friend requests. The process of creating pods worked similarly for the 9th grade, although freshmen did not fill out a friend request form.
The issue with grouping peers was the arrangement of classes. On any day, half of the 10th grade would be in tracked pods and the other half would be in untracked pods, with the same true for the 11th grade. As a result, students couldn’t be with any friend they chose because their schedules wouldn’t align.
Seniors did not receive a friend request form. According to Altman, the complication of seniors requesting peers would be too difficult when also attempting to maintain the system in which seniors take elective classes. “We were trying to honor and preserve [the electives], and that was really the guiding force there,” she said.
After pod assignments were released, a number of students switched pods for various reasons. A senior who desired to remain anonymous stated, “Since seniors weren’t allowed to choose pods on the basis of friend groups, I was put with classmates I don’t interact with usually. The same was true for a different student, so we were able to switch our pods, but it was done in an informal fashion.” She wished there had been an official way for students to switch pods if they were unhappy with their groups. Pod assignments are now definite, and students aren’t generally permitted to switch, though Altman commented, “If we’ve made some major mistake or someone’s absolutely miserable, we’d be open to making things better.”
There are currently no plans to change students’ pod assignments later in the year. If hybrid learning continues into the second semester, the pods may be rearranged, but there is no finalized plan, considering the difficulty of maneuvering students’ and teachers’ schedules.
“The pods are not anybody’s ideal, and we know that,” added Altman. “They were really done for safety, and people should know that we tried our best to balance a whole lot of factors.