SH staff and families set off the new school year with a hybrid Back to School Night alternative option


Image printed with permission from Melissa Stinson.

Chemistry teacher Walter Haberaecker introduces his class curriculum for families attending a 2019 Back to School Night. This year’s event has a hybrid option.

Irene Sheen, Special Sections Editor

After going all virtual for Back to School Night last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Aug. 31 event will be in person but with a hybrid option provided by some teachers.

“It’s something that we really want to explore, and we think it’s going to be a great way to meet the needs of all of our families because we know there are some families whose guardians can’t attend in person for various reasons,” assistant principal Melissa Stinson said. “We don’t want that to be a barrier for them to participate in this event and their student’s education.”

Department leaders informed teachers a week before the event that they have the option to provide parents with a Zoom or Google Meet link to join their live presentation or watch a pre-recorded video for those at home who can’t come to view. 

“Not everybody has the same work schedule, so some of them may not be able to make it in the time period,” said English teacher Thomas Butler, who chose to provide families with a Zoom alternative. “We want to be as inclusive of everyone in our community as we can.”

Rather than hosting a Zoom meeting, social science teacher David Fenstermaker said he has decided to prepare a pre-recorded presentation for families choosing the digital option. 

“I anticipate a lot of people being there, and because of that, I think it would be difficult to manage the Zoom at the same time,” Fenstermaker said. “I’m just going to record something [that discusses] what we’re going to do in a given school year, what my expectations are and a sense of how I teach the class.”

Social science Department chairman Greg Abbott agrees with the administration’s decision to provide a hybrid option for parents. 

“It’s like an experiment and, if it works well, we should continue doing it, even when things go back to normal,” said social studies teacher Greg Abbott, who plans on offering a Zoom alternative. “I think if it works well and it’s convenient for teachers and parents, then why not [do it]?”

Families utilizing the virtual alternative can access the digital program on the SH website, containing all the links needed to participate in each teacher’s event and additional contact information of teachers hosting just the live Back to School Night. 

We want to be as inclusive of everyone in our community as we can”

— English teacher Thomas Butler

Continuing previous years’ traditions, principal Allen Whitten said he plans to follow the procedures of a typical Back to School Night in which he welcomes families to the Quad and celebrates the start of a new school year with a brief speech. Parents will then be released to visit their student’s classrooms according to their school schedules, each with a 10-minute presentation, followed by a five-minute passing period for parents to get to the next class. 

“We’ll typically have some kind of performance, so this year we’ve invited [the drumline] to be out in the Quad about 15 minutes before Mr. Whitten’s speech, which is scheduled to be at 6 p.m.,” Stinson said. “Drumline is always associated with school spirit, [so] they’ll be out there setting the tone and getting everyone excited.”

Though Stinson has prepared a hybrid event, she continues to stress the importance of maintaining the safety of all families and staff members amid this pandemic. 

“We’re asking all of our attendees to make sure that they’re fully masked and to make sure that if they’re feeling any symptoms, that they choose not to come on campus and utilize that virtual piece,” Stinson said.  

Freshman Vivian Pop praises the school’s plans to accommodate all families, including those who choose to stay at home. 

“Whatever option works best for your family is ideal, so if you decide that you want to be safe, then it makes sense that you would stay home or be extra careful,” said Pop, whose parents plan on attending the live Back to School Night. “I like how Sunny Hills is adapting to each family and what they would want.”

Despite being so early into the new school year, SH staff highlight the importance of creating an opportunity for parents to build healthy relationships with their students’ teachers. 

“It’s really that partnership building piece that we really like about Back to School Night,” Stinson said. “It’s an opportunity for parents to be able to meet the teachers and teachers to be able to convey their approachability and availability to help students inside and outside of class as well as communicate with parents about the progress of their students.”

As a parent himself, Butler sympathizes with guardians looking to personally meet their students’ teachers. 

“I have a high school student myself, so I do like to go in and meet the teachers [to] talk with them face-to-face, [and] I like to get an idea of who they are as people,” Butler said. “For me, during Back to School Night, it’s really not so much about the class as it is about meeting the parents [and] making that relationship.”

Although the hybrid event comes with much preparation and risk, senior Danielle Gonzalez anticipates the spirited atmosphere brought to an in-person setting compared to last year’s digital occasion. 

“I’m definitely most excited about seeing how teachers communicate to parents, [and] I plan on being patient and waking my parents though the bell schedule to make sure that they are on the right track and also have fun,” said Gonzalez, who looks forward to attending her last in-person event. “Back to School Night is never enjoyable if everyone is stressed out the entire night.”