Up to 140 Palo Alto Unified School District high school students who opted into hybrid learning before the January plan was canceled are back on campus as of Jan. 25.

PAUSD Superintendent Don Austin announced that 10 cohorts of up to 14 students each were to return to high school campuses, after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the shelter-in-place order on Jan. 25. Middle school campuses are scheduled to open for hybrid learning for sixth graders on March 1.


“I made the choice to sign up because I wanted to find a better balance between my academics, social life and being active.”

—Stella Essenmacher, senior


Junior Max Vroemen was among the group of students who decided to carry out their virtual learning from the classroom last week. 

“There were definitely pros and cons,” Vroemen said. “Some good things were that being out of my house and seeing some people again was fun, as well as that the school made it very safe with plastic dividers on desks, desks that were very far apart, cohorts, everyone’s temperature taken and of course, everyone wearing masks.”

However, Vroemen says he wishes there was more time to socialize throughout the day. While students are with their peers on campus, each person attends their own Zoom classes, so the program is still lacking in-person interaction.

“We were still in the same Zoom classes, and with masks and headphones on all day you couldn’t really work or talk to any of the people in the class except for lunch,” Vroemen said. “In the future I would like the school to start some in-person classes, because I don’t think that doing Zoom calls from school all day is a hybrid learning model.”

Senior Finn Hadly also returned last week, and like Vroemen, felt the socialization was limited. 

“It’s pretty barren and desolate,” Hadly said. “Besides my cohort and instructor the only other person I saw was the occasional glimpse of [Campus Supervisor] Ernesto [Cruz] flying around in his golf car,” Hadly said. “Despite this, being able to interact with peers was great, however limited and monitored that interaction was.”

Sophomore Alec Profit also says that the program does not give students the same freedoms as a typical school year because of the closed campus and strict social distancing requirements. However, he ultimately chose to participate in the hybrid program to find a better learning environment.

“I chose it because I can’t focus well at my house and I want to be able to have more of a regular schedule,” Profit said. “Hopefully as cases go down and people get vaccines, we should be able to have more freedom or even have classes taught by teachers [in-person].”

Another senior starting out in the new program, Stella Essenmacher, appreciates how the program provides her a separate space to focus on academics — something she had been missing with at-home school.  

“I made the choice to sign up because I wanted to find a better balance between my academics, social life and being active,” Essenmacher said. “People were respectful during classes and super friendly during breaks, and I felt really safe and welcomed, even though I barely knew any of the other students in my cohort. I would recommend this program to anyone looking to add some dimension to their life.”

While the new program is not comparable to regular school, it could be a stepping stone to a more extensive return. Hadly feels different students may have different experiences depending on what they are looking to gain from the program.  

“I think when it comes down to it, this new hybrid program is really what students make of it,” Hadly said. “It can be a great way to connect with some people you haven’t seen in awhile, but at the same time it’s quite removed from what regular school would be like.” 

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