Friday, March 13, 2020. That was the last day students at Yelm High School had a normal day of in-person instruction. So much was still unknown in those early days of the pandemic: How bad was this …
Friday, March 13, 2020.
That was the last day students at Yelm High School had a normal day of in-person instruction.
So much was still unknown in those early days of the pandemic: How bad was this mysterious and novel virus? How many people could it infect? How long would students be away from the classroom?
Fast forward a year later, and we know at least a little more now than we knew then. One thing known, though, is that Yelm secondary students are finally returning to the classroom after a long time away, though they won’t be putting away distanced learning altogether quite yet.
All students will begin their hybrid learning process starting Monday, March 15.
“It’s a little bit ironic that we’re starting up on March 15 being how we’ve gone a whole calendar year in that we haven’t been able to be with kids,” said Yelm High School Principal John Johnson. “We’re just super energized, we’re excited. We’re just champing at the bit to receive kids and look them in the eye instead of staring at a black screen.”
Thurston Health Officer Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek late last month gave her recommendation for public schools to officially start returning middle school and high school students to the classroom.
The county was meeting metric goals set by the state in countywide transmission that allowed a slow and phased approach to returning high school students. Thurston County on Feb. 26 reported 121.4 cases per 100,000 people reported over the previous 14 days. That metric has continued to drop and as of Tuesday morning press deadline was at 103.9.
By the end of this month, most public school students in Thurston County should be back to part-time, in-person instruction — though, that’s only if they want to come back.
About 23 percent of Yelm High School students and 16 percent of Rainier High School students won’t be immediately returning to the classroom for a variety of reasons, safety concerns being among them. The expectation for public schools to teach students both in-person and remotely, simultaneously, has also led to a reshuffling of curriculums.
But both Johnson and Rainier High School Principal John Beckman are confident in their schools’ plans to begin returning students to a hybrid model. Many schools in the county, after all, have had these plans ready since the summer.
“We’re ready to receive students and conduct simultaneous instructure during all those days of week,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be doing some rehearsals as far as going through the processes prior to the 15th so that if anything pops up we can make some adjustments … We should be able to do a real good job.”
On March 1, Yelm High School staff uploaded a video to YoutTube and on its website showing the different safety protocols and systems students and staff would need to operate under during hybrid instruction.
A typical day on campus at the high school might look something like this: students will arrive on campus and be required to show attestation that they’ve completed their daily wellness screening on Skyward. If not, they can undergo a wellness screening at the front door. Masks will be required both outside and inside, and marked arrows on the floor will guide foot traffic for students and staff traveling between classes. Restrooms will also have a maximum capacity.
Students will also be asked to use hand sanitizer prior to entering the classroom. Desks will be sanitized after each period and before class starts. In the classroom, students won’t be sharing materials and they’ll be asked to keep a 6-foot distance between themselves and others. Students will also be required to bring their Chromebooks to class fully charged.
At lunch, students will pick up a sack lunch and sit in a single-seat desk facing other students to socialize. Students won’t be able to go to their vehicles at lunch.
Everyone on campus will also be required to wear a face covering or mask.
“If a student needs one, we’re going to give it to them,” Johnson said. “We certainly want to demonstrate that the appropriate way for us to be here and being in school is for us to wear our masks.”
At Rainier High School, seniors have been back in the classroom since the week of Feb. 18. Beckman said that the process for bringing back high schoolers and middle schoolers has been going well so far.
“It just went really well. Understandably, we had some people with anxiety — both students, their families and staff. I think the speed at which we’ve returned is really well and our process has been really well. It’s been great to see our kids, for sure,” Beckman said.
Both schools are conducting an A-B hybrid learning model where up to half of students are on campus on any given school day. When students aren’t on campus, they’re participating in distanced learning online or through other materials.
Mondays are fully online for students and staff at Rainier. The largest class size is about 15 students, said Beckman, who’s also the principal of Rainier Middle School.
He also said planning the high schoolers’ day-to-day process for going about business on campus has been fairly similar to what the elementary school and their staff have done.
“The way we get kids through the hallways is pretty standard,” he said. “We pretty much taught kids how to graciously get from one class to the next.”
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