San Benito High School Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum and Principal Adrian Ramirez presented a plan for reopening the school to the Board of Trustees at a June 30 special meeting on Zoom. The district said a hybrid model of in-person instruction and distance learning has emerged as the most viable option for all stakeholders, set to debut on Aug. 13, the first day of school. Trustees are expected to discuss reopening plans at a future meeting.
The hybrid model consists of placing students in three groups, or what SBHS calls “cohorts”: a.m., p.m. or distance learning only. Students who choose in-person instruction would attend school four days a week in either the a.m. or p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. All students will participate remotely from home on Wednesdays. The a.m. and p.m. groups will consist of approximately 1,400 students each on campus at one time.
Wednesdays would be used for professional development and to give custodians time to deep clean and disinfect the grounds between in-person sessions.
The hybrid model would allow students to take up to two classes simultaneously per quarter. In a three-quarter year, the students would then have fulfilled their six-course requirement per year.
The daily schedule will also include passive and active health screenings before the start of each school session, as described in this YouTube video.
According to a district spokesperson, how students will be divided and whether students will be assigned to a.m. or p.m. groups, has not yet been determined. However, students and families can opt for distance learning only.
Even though the hybrid model has emerged as a viable option, it is still not set in stone, as Ramirez said all plans under discussion will enable the district to “stay fluid and adapt as necessary.”
According to the plans presented by Ramirez, there is still a possibility of needing to go back into full distance learning, or a return to full in-person instruction.
The school district conducted surveys, held focus groups with parents, students and staff, and is following guidance from the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Education as it went about developing its hybrid model.
BenitoLink spoke to SBHS Board President John Corrigan, who said, “In a perfect world we would be able to return to ‘normal’ but at this point, unfortunately, it is pretty clear that we are a long way away from that. As board president, I like the fact that the hybrid model includes both in-person and distance learning components, which are designed to engage students in synchronous and asynchronous learning.”
Corrigan is the father of three Balers, with twin sophomores and one senior enrolled in the 2020-21 school year. He said that, as a parent, he worries about the isolation of students.
“High school is as important in terms of socialization as it is in the education of young adults. Being a teenager is hard enough without the added pressures of a worldwide pandemic. But on the other hand, this is also an opportunity to educate students about how to manage and persevere through difficult times that are outside of their control.”
Safety measures included in the hybrid plan are mandatory face coverings for everyone on campus. The school will encourage all students to bring their own face masks and will have a stockpile on hand to distribute as needed.
Trustee Juan Robledo has a 38-year history working as both a teacher and administrator at SBHS. He said, “Extra masks have to be available just in case someone loses or forgets theirs. This is not like forgetting a pencil, pen or book. The health and safety of our students and staff requires us to utilize safe practices. If a mask is not adequate or has an inappropriate message, we have to be able to provide a new one.”
In addition to requiring face coverings the plan includes, installing portable hand washing stations; establishing physical distancing by placing desks six feet apart; using partitions and markings on the floor to promote physical distancing; limiting gatherings; keeping the same groups of students together with the same teacher in the same classroom; and limiting the use of shareable objects and equipment.
Regarding the school’s efforts to get the word out about the hybrid model, Robledo said, “We have staff who are going beyond the call of duty to visit our families. One can never say it’s enough because this would mean we’ve stopped trying. If there are parents or families out there who have questions, please call our high school.”
Robledo addressed monolingual Spanish parents directly when he said, “Por favor, llamen a nuestra escuela si tienen alguna pregunta.” (Please call our school if you have any questions.)
The district’s findings from its focus groups and surveys identified key factors that needed to be addressed by the hybrid model. For those surveyed, the priorities were grades, student accountability, a need for students to interact in person, as well as the health and safety of all those involved, including the mental health of students.
Trustee Corrigan offered words of encouragement for all students.
“History will remember the 2019-20 and the 2020-21 school years as uniquely different than anything we’ve seen previously. The class of 2020 had so much taken away from them by the pandemic, and the class of 2021 may likely be in the same situation, possibly for the entire school year. It is easy to be frustrated with the school and blame people or groups for the loss of activities. Try to remember that this is an extremely new paradigm for everyone. Try to be kind and understanding. Navigating this worldwide health crisis has not been easy for anyone. Nobody wants to cancel dances or sports or concerts, but sometimes we are forced to make hard decisions based on the circumstances that present themselves. Bear with us as we truly do have the best interests of all of our stakeholders in mind.”
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