CHICAGO (CBS) — More than 300,000 Chicago Public Schools students head back to class in person on Monday.
Teachers and parents alike are laser-focused on making sure kids are engaged in school after a year of distractions and e-learning hurdles. CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas reports on the efforts to make this year a productive one.READ MORE: 'An Important Time For Us': Chicagoans Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month
Tenth-grade high school teacher Mike Smith is inspired by “Respect,” the new Aretha Franklin biopic as he prepares for the new school year.
“Our first lesson is on respect,” Smith said.
Smith plans to play this clip from the new Jennifer Hudson movie for his class. The lesson is about respect for COVID-19 mitigations.
“If I don’t want to get sick, I know they don’t want to get sick – and it’s all about respecting that idea of what I can do for the person for the person across the room,” Smith said.
He says the more his students respect masks, social distancing and other COVID rules, the more time they’ll have to focus on their schoolwork at Englewood STEM High School, 6835 S. Normal Blvd.
It is especially important after the challenges of the last year and a half.
“They were online eight hours a day,” Smith said. “That’s a really long time, and that’s hard to maintain focus, and that’s hard not to get distracted.”
Keeping students engaged has been a challenge across Chicago Public Schools — especially at the start of the pandemic. In May of 2020, the district had trouble even contacting about 15 percent of its students.READ MORE: Downtown Chicago Roadblocks Quell Mexican Independence Day Street Celebrations
“The young people I know are incredibly eager to be back in those environments,” said University of Illinois at Chicago education professor Victoria Trinder.
Victoria said in-person learning will have some advantages.
“I think that will be a source of energy and enthusiasm that will pay off,” she said.
But as a former CPS teacher, Trinder knows this year will also have its hurdles.
“This year, there won’t be stability because there are a lot of unknowns,” she said.
Smith worries the challenges of in-person learning in a pandemic could create another year of distractions.
“Social distancing in a school building is very difficult,” he said.
So he hopes a little respect can go a long way.
This summer, the district announced a $500 million plan to help students bounce back over the next two years.MORE NEWS: 'We're Back': Store Owner Reopens Chicago Sports On Michigan Avenue After 2020 Unrest
That includes investments in tech and new tutors — but some of those plans won’t be fully in place until next year.