Teachers Prepare For School As Reopening Approaches

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Art/Photo by Samantha Takeda

As stricter COVID-19 restrictions are eased out and vaccinations become more widely available, more schools around the country are beginning to open up. Teachers at West are preparing their classrooms, stocked with COVID precautions, alongside normal supplies, to ensure the safety of students and fellow staff.

Lauren Ng, Sports & Opinion Editor

   March 13, 2020: The COVID-19 shutdown was initially scheduled for a two-week duration, allowing students to return to campus by the end of the month. A year later, it remains true that students will resume in-person schooling in March ― just not March of 2020. 

   On March 25th and 26th this year, Blended Learning students will walk through the pandemic-regulated gates of TUSD’s middle and high schools for their first day at school of the academic year. But to facilitate a smooth transition and maintain a safe, efficient learning environment, West High’s staff must prepare both their classrooms and themselves. They shared their thought processes and what school may look like for Blended students.

   Mrs. Machado, one of West’s Spanish teachers, found the email announcing reopening to be unexpected: “I was really surprised, honestly, because there hadn’t been real talks about coming back to school until that communication came out.” Teachers, parents, and students alike were notified of the plans for reopening in March by the same email at the same time. 

   The student-free day that occurred last Monday conveniently provided teachers with time to prepare. Prior to that day, Mrs. Machado outlined how teachers would utilize the opportunity: “The plan is to actually go to West High School, go back to the room, and then… do whatever needs to be done in the classroom in terms of setting up the technology, and the furniture, and just making sure that the space is appropriate for welcoming back the students in person.” While it usually bustles with life, the West campus has resembled a ghost town during the last 12 months. As a result, a large part of teachers’ preparation stems from “setting up the physical space.”  

   In addition to getting classrooms ready, there are several logistical aspects of returning to school to consider. Many teachers have both Blended and Distance Learning students in the same class period, which may create challenges for the class dynamic: “I have Cohort A, Cohort B, and Distance Learning all in one period,” Mrs. Machado explained. For mixed classes, teachers may have to find ways to interact with in-person and online students simultaneously. To balance different learning platforms in the same classroom, “there’s still a lot of thinking to do.”

   Even with students back on campus, the use of different technological platforms will remain prevalent. West math teacher Mrs. DuGard sees various methods of computerized teaching as positive developments; she “personally will continue using Google Classroom for assignments” for both her in-person and online students. Although classes are not required to become paperless, using individual electronic devices can still reduce teacher-student physical contact. “I assume that the school is going to ask families and students to bring a device from home, if possible, and then also use the Chromebooks that we already have at school available,” Mrs. Machado said.

   On a larger scale, one of the ways TUSD has aided its employees in preparing for reopening is through the vaccination process. While some have already received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine through district clinics, distribution has not yet reached every member of faculty and staff.   

   As Mrs. Machado expressed, “I would feel more comfortable if all of my colleagues and I were fully vaccinated with both shots and the two weeks you’re supposed to wait after the vaccine to be at the highest efficacy… I would feel much better if that were one of the requirements in order to go back to school.”

   Regarding pandemic safety alone, teachers must account for many factors in their planning. To maintain social distancing, regular-sized classrooms have an average occupancy of 16 students. Some classes may only fit smaller amounts of students to allot enough space for classroom walkways and avoiding traffic. 

   These guidelines for reopening affect all aspects of school, including classes not restricted to the classroom. For West’s Drill and All Male (WDAAM) team, more recent changes to COVID-19 protocols have created the prospect of in-person competitions. WDAAM Director Mrs. Eriksen is excited to have her team back on campus. For WDAAM, she explained that “because we’ve been placed in the same range as the sports, we can have everyone there every day, every time we practice.” In-person practices have been occurring since February for Drill; the class takes place during zero period and first period hours. Typically, practices may last from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., which “gives [students] time to go home and get on Zoom” before third period at 10:30. As West reopens, the team will continue to prepare for competition: “We have a nationals competition that is being held outdoors… they have a roof and a back wall, and it’s outside and they set up a dance floor.” WDAAM also plans to host their own virtual competition, having each team “perform on Zoom so the judges can watch them live.”

   While the return of Blended students does not mark the end of pandemic restrictions, the gradual steps being taken to move forward will continue to aid West High in the long run. A version of the “next normal” may begin to reveal itself as reopening draws nearer.