Hollister-based Facebook groups flooded with posts commenting on traffic blocking the streets near San Benito High School on Aug. 8. The cause? The school was handing out supplies to its entire 3,331-member student body ahead of the first day of school on Aug. 13.
With distribution at four different parking lots on campus based on class level and time slots based on last name, staff distributed schedules, textbooks, and Chromebooks in preparation for the start of classes, with distance learning being a critical part of the school plan.
While the schedule planned for distribution on Aug. 8-9, some students who arrived the first day were turned away for lack of supplies.
“Anyone who drove by here yesterday could see that we underestimated the number of folks who were going to show up at certain times,” Principal Adrian Ramirez said. “We did what we could and made sure that we distributed as much as we could yesterday.”
Ramirez estimated that three-quarters of the student body came on Tuesday, creating a logistical nightmare.
That evening, after publicly apologizing, Ramirez called a meeting to think through the issue and prepare for the next day.
“We are so lucky to have this staff,” Ramirez said. “Everyone picked up on things that we could improve on. We regrouped with more people and a better plan.”
According to SBHS senior Olivia Madera, distribution on Aug. 9 was still hectic, but ultimately successful.
“It was crazy,” she said. “The main road was blocked about five times in both directions. I was there to help with parking, but I offered and they said ‘yes, yes, please come and help.’ It was a matter of getting the right bag to the right student, but everything went really well.”
To provide consistent tools for learning, every SBHS student will receive a Chromebook pre-loaded with the software needed for classwork.
“We are encouraging even students who already have laptops to use the Chromebooks for distance learning,” Ramirez said. “When we transition into a hybrid system with students on campus part-time, the Chromebooks will be just like textbooks that they will be using here too. They will be the device that everyone will be using on campus.”
The school acquired the Chromebooks five years ago. According to John Frusetta, director of technology at San Benito High School, the school owns enough Chromebooks—over 3,000—to be able to distribute one to every student. The school had already distributed 581 Chromebooks and mobile hotspots last spring to students after the school shut down.
One advantage of using Chromebooks is that they will all be connected to the school’s network, allowing the technical staff to keep them updated and serviced.
“From a technology perspective, it’s been relatively straightforward to organize our materials, reconfigure systems, and get devices into the hands of students,” Frusetta said. “Students must take more responsibility than ever when participating in their education from a laptop in their house; it’s a stark difference from being on campus, talking to friends, seeing favorite teachers, and taking part in school activities.”
Ramirez sees Chromebooks as part of the future of education. “We have always had them in the classrooms and now we anticipate always having a one-on-one deployment to students.”
This year’s instruction schedule splits students into two groups. One group will receive live course lessons in the morning from 9 a.m.-noon, while the second group goes live from 11:15 a.m.-3 p.m. Non-live courses will take place during the rest of the periods.
Each student will take two classes at a time in six-week increments. The schedule is planned around having as few students, teachers, and staff as possible on campus on any given day. This plan will stay in place until 14 days after San Benito County is removed from the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list.
Madera is reconciled to the new normal of distance learning.
“I don’t want to be negative but I think this is going to be a permanent thing for this year,” she said. “Even if we went back, it is not going to be the same. But one thing I have learned is that you have to keep a sense that things will get better. It helps to know that we are all going through it together.”
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