North County Joint Union School District’s only school, Spring Grove, is open for in-person instruction as of Oct. 28. Of the school’s 740 students, 709 showed up for either a.m. or p.m. in-person instruction; 31 students chose to continue learning from home with an independent study contract.
“We did not apply for a waiver because the waiver did not include seventh and eighth graders coming back on campus,” District Superintendent and Spring Grove Principal Jenny Bernosky told BenitoLink. “We waited until the county was in the red tier and then the San Benito Public Health Department gave us the open date of Oct. 28.”
Spring Grove is currently the only public school open for in-person instruction in the county without having had to apply for a waiver. Schools that applied and approved to open locally while the county was still in the more restrictive purple tier, were rural with low numbers of students, namely Tres Pinos, Willow Grove, and Cienega to name a few. Following the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, a county must stay in the current tier at least 21 days before advancing to the next, less restrictive one. San Benito County moved from the purple tier to the red tier on Oct. 13.
Spring Grove students and staff have had to embrace a new normal in exchange for gaining access to in-person learning. Students are on campus Monday through Thursday in either an 8 a.m-11 a.m. group or a noon-3 p.m. group. After students get out of school, they are required to do homework on Google Classroom for one to two hours for transitional kindergarten to third grade, and two to three hours for fourth to eighth grade. All students work from home on Friday through Google Classroom.
Bernosky, wife of Hollister School District trustee Rob Bernosky who is running for reelection, said the district has been planning the transition back to in-person learning since July. “We thought we would open in August. Each room is equipped with hand sanitizers, extra face coverings, disinfecting kits, social distancing signs, markers on the ground, plexiglass partitions in the offices and portable [ones] for small groups/testing.”
Custodians and staff clean throughout the day and in-between the a.m. and p.m. sessions, Bernosky said. Bathroom and high touch areas are disinfected hourly. Bus routes were also revised and limited to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines.
When students arrive at school, parents can only drop them off. Students then line up outside of the campus, where markers on the ground remind them to maintain six feet of social distance as they advance in the line. Facial coverings and masks are required, and a temperature check is conducted before any student enters the campus. Bernosky said support staff help monitor the line and provide hand sanitizer to students while they are waiting for administrators to take temperatures.
Bernosky led the charge at one of three designated entry points by conducting temperature checks and welcoming each student.
“All the staff was out to greet the students,” she said. “What a great feeling to see our students in person after seven and a half months of being off campus.”
While there is no recess, some students still have physical education while on campus.
“All first through eighth grade students get a 15-minute PE with our amazing PE teacher, Coach David Kaplansky. Students are assigned a number in their cohort on the blacktop. Classroom teachers supervise and assist. For some students this was the highlight of the day.”
Bernosky said because classes are limited to between nine and 17 students, teachers were able to teach more than they expected. “So many teachers were excited to be back with students and not on the screen.”
Gina Tomisini, a third grade teacher at Spring Grove since 2008, said “I think it’s been great! It has been so organized and because we are a small school we were able to achieve this. The kids are so happy to be back and finally we can see what they know or don’t know and fill the gaps, academically and emotionally. All the families have been great too. Everyone is following the procedures because they all want in person learning to continue. We can see smiles through the masks.”
One of those smiles is that of seventh grader Gael Hernandez, new to Spring Grove this year. The school recognized him as student of the week during the first week of in-person instruction.
“Mrs. Bernosky announced it through the speaker in the morning, Ms. Pacheco handed me the certificate in class, it felt good,” Hernandez said. “It made my mom really happy. My friend smiled at me and said ‘cool.’”
When asked what it’s like to be off of distance learning and back in the classroom, Hernandez said, “It feels better. It’s easier to learn. I have a better mentality when learning considering I’m in a real classroom now.”
His mother, Rosalinda Hernandez, was conflicted at first about returning to in-person instruction.
“I worry about his physical health, but elated for his emotional health,” she said. “So far we’re still healthy and he comes home happy.”
The school has gained Hernandez’s trust through constant communication, parent engagement and what she calls excellent customer/family service.
“They are kind. The principal is super engaged and is the one that delivers almost all of the messages to families. I trust them.”
Parents are integral to the process of keeping students and staff safe and in class, Bernosky said. Although parents are not able to be on campus to help, the Spring Grove Parent-Teacher Organization has found ways to provide support to staff. Parents are being asked to spot COVID-19 symptoms and keep children home to do school work via Google Classroom if they show any symptoms of being sick. The district will work with OptumServe at the Veterans Memorial Building for COVID-19 testing.Once this site closes, Bernosky said the district will work with their medical benefit provider SISC and the San Benito Public Health Department for other options. If there is an exposure to a student or staff, the class will go to online learning for 14 days.
“It is our goal to remain open,” Bernosky said. “We want our parents to help in this process. There is no better place to be than on campus with our students. Many families and students have shared that being back on campus is the best thing ever. Even the kindergarten children who are new to school are excited to see their teachers and walk right on campus all by themselves.”
When asked how Spring Grove will manage an influx of requests to attend in-person instruction considering it’s one of the only public schools open in San Benito County, Bernosky said, “We currently have a wait list of students who would like to transfer in. Until we have gone through a few weeks of our new plan, we will not accept any transfer. We will relook at the wait list in January to determine if we have space in any grade levels.”
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