Last week, high schoolers around the city returned to in-person instruction. Well, sort of.

“I wouldn’t even call it going back into the classroom. It’s Zoom in a different location,” said Mackenzie Grey, a junior at the Lab School for Collaborative Studies in Manhattan.

She said she's not receiving any in-person instruction, even on days she attends in person. And she’s not alone in being disappointed.

What You Need To Know

  • High schools reopened to students last week

  • But many are still learning remotely, even when they attend in person, bringing their laptops and joining remote classes from their desks

  • At other schools, livestreaming and other solutions have allowed students to get more live instruction in the classroom

“It was a little sad almost, because we were all hoping for, like, something close to normal, I think, and it was far from that,” said classmate Madeline Schneider, also a junior.

Students travel to the Lab School school with their laptops or tablets, then sit in rooms with students from different classes. The students log on to their laptops, with headphones, to join their classes virtually, while a teacher in the room supervises but doesn’t actually teach them.

“I think it's the same as doing it at home, if not worse, honestly, because it's a lot of traveling just to go to class on your computer,” Schneider said. “It’s a little distracting, actually, having all these kids around you who are in different classes.”

At the Lab School, students are hopeful about a new schedule that begins in late April. Students in each grade will attend in person just once a week, but will interact more with teachers. Until then, Mackenzie says the current set-up doesn’t allow students to interact or socialize with one another, as each student in the room is working in separate classes.

“I'm a very collaborative learner. I like to talk to people about things. So that's been taken away for me,” she said.

In a statement, the Education Department said: “There are more New York City students in classrooms than any other city in America, and all of our in-person students are in classes with qualified educators and caring adults. We are supporting our high schools in maximizing in-person instruction, and working with them on their programming and staffing needs.”

But the DOE said it can not yet detail how many of those students are just sitting in classrooms, learning on laptops.

How much — if any — in-person instruction a high school student actually receives comes down to factors like their school's size, staffing levels, the number of students and faculty working remotely, and what teaching models a school put in place.

On the two days a week Cliff Stern is able to attend Brooklyn Tech in person, most of his classes are taught by a teacher in the room he's in, who is simultaneously livestreaming to students learning remotely.

“It definitely took some getting used to, because obviously looking at a classroom than looking at Zoom and looking at a classroom can be difficult, but as the fall went on and now that we've come back in the spring, most of my teachers have gotten a pretty good handle on teaching to two groups of kids at once,” he said.

One reason high schools have struggled more than other grade levels with providing in-person instruction is how complicated their schedules can be. Cliff takes an elective class that’s taught by only one teacher at the school, and that teacher is working from home for the year. So, for that and one other class, Cliff follows along on his computer, even on the days he’s in the school building. He has a free period in which he sits in the school’s massive auditorium.

While the normally packed school can feel a bit empty, he says it’s absolutely been worth attending in person.

“You're sitting in a classroom, it feels like school. It's easier to pay attention. Also, this isn’t academic as much, but: the benefit of getting out of the house, having something to do, going somewhere, commuting. That's also something that I found really beneficial,”  he said.

But, it's not without snags. The school was closed last Friday due to two unlinked cases of coronavirus. Cliff hopes it will be able to re-open Monday when students return from spring break.