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Brett W. McFadden: Keeping our focus on what matters most

Brett W. McFadden

It’s been a struggle. That is probably the most professional way I could describe the past 18 months, and especially the first three months of the 2021-22 school year.

Since the start of the school year on Aug. 16, the Nevada Joint Union High School District has dealt with over 150 positive COVID-19/Delta variant cases among its students and over 20+ positive staff cases. If that wasn’t enough, we and other school districts in Nevada County have been further challenged by a shrinking pool of substitute teachers, paraprofessionals, school nurses and bus drivers.

But despite these challenges, our high schools have remained open! In-person instruction has replaced distance learning and the 2021-22 school year is off and running.

As adults, we can often become consumed with the assorted controversies around COVID case numbers, mask mandates, state vaccination requirements and quarantines. These are certainly real issues and the pandemic is not over, even though we have finally started to see case numbers decrease noticeably. When the fall semester started, the district was averaging as much as 30+ cases each week. But over the past month we have seen an average of only one to two per week (knock on wood!).

One thing the pandemic has reminded us of is that students tend be a lot more resilient than we initially believe. Feedback from students has been that they are, for the most part, thrilled to be back in classes and on campuses. They get to see their friends. They attend events. They are receiving a robust education in a safe environment.

We are at this point because of the tremendous steps the high school district has taken over the past several months. We have a vigorous on-campus COVID-19 testing protocol through Instron VHS testing systems. Tests – either nose swab or saliva – are available and administered five days on a volunteer basis. State public health regulations now require unvaccinated staff to be tested weekly.

We have a vigorous contact tracing program that operates on campus and responds immediately to limit potential exposures. When warranted, required 10-day quarantine periods are implemented and monitored for those that may have been in “close contact” of a COVID positive staff member or student.

We continue with pro-active cleaning of all facilities, and we have upgraded air filtration systems were needed.

Finally, our teachers, classified staff and administrators have gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve our students and keep our schools operational. Their heroic efforts have been the primary ingredient to the district’s success so far.

These efforts have allowed us to offer students the high school experience they deserve. Coursework continues much like any other year. In this column, I want to share with readers some of what’s happening on our high school campuses outside the classroom.

At Bear River High School, back-to-school activities included Spirit Days, a lunchtime dodgeball tournament and Jungle Rally. Students creatively painted the parking spots they purchased. The Senior Sunrise event saw seniors eating breakfast, listening to music, and writing letters to their future selves. During football games, the stands are typically filled with students covered in face paint and cheering for the Bruins.

Homecoming Week looked much like any other year, beginning with Movie Night in the quad. The Homecoming semi-formal dance was held outdoors and nearly 400 students danced the evening away. The Powder Puff football game gave the Lady Bruins the opportunity to shine under stadium lights once again. Club Rush offered students a chance to learn about the many engaging clubs on campus.

The Bear River FFA chapter hosted its annual welcome barbecue for students and parents. Its Ag Communications team qualified for the national finals. Field trips have included the Greenhand Leadership Conference and the Chapter Officer Leadership Conference.

Nevada Union’s FFA chapter held its welcome back barbecue as well. NU FFA officers also attended the Chapter Officer Leadership Conference in Willows, preparing them to become future leaders in the agriculture industry.

Participation is up in Nevada Union fall sports, including cross country, football and cheer, girls’ golf, girls’ tennis, girls’ volleyball, and girls’ and boys’ water polo. More than 100 athletes helped distribute firewood with Gold Country Senior Services during this year’s Random Acts of Kindness day. The annual Girls’ Volleyball Pink Night raised awareness for breast cancer education in collaboration with the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation.

High school athletes volunteering for the Random Acts of Kindness Event on the Idaho-Maryland Mine property where the Gold Country Senior Services Firewood Program holds its distribution from. Volunteers from the varsity and JV football teams, cheerleaders, volleyball, baseball, interact club, leadership club, and tennis team were among those to participate.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com

Link Crew Orientation helped 400 freshmen students get acquainted with the campus, each other, and upper-class students who can assist them throughout the school year. The NU Blood Drive collected 30 lifesaving pints – each pint can save up to three lives. The Student Store is being relocated to the front of the school for better access.

Hallway decorations consumed the campus during Hallapolooza. Spirit days filled Homecoming Week, culminating with an outdoor rally, football game and halftime show, and a dance.

At Ghidotti Early College High School, sports teams are back in action after no competitions last year. The Fire Wolves girls’ volleyball team is competing at such a high level, school officials believe the California Interscholastic Federation will take notice and place the team in a CIF league next year. Girls’ and boys’ basketball start next month. A group of students is organizing a soccer team to play in a Samba league, and a field trip is planned to Prosperity Lanes for some bowling fun.

There are rallies every Friday during which students play games such as Name that Tune. Movie nights, one of the students’ favorite events, start up again at the end of this month. Next month, freshmen and sophomores will tour UC Davis and juniors and seniors will visit University of Nevada-Reno. The annual Pie Day is back! Parents bring to campus and serve literally hundreds of pies, and students are determined to finish every last crumb in a single day. Student clubs have returned, and the Key Club participated in the South Yuba Citizens League river clean-up. Halloween brings pumpkin carving and costumes, and December will be marked with a Secret Santa gift exchange.

At Silver Springs Continuation High School, the flag football team placed second in the Alternative Athletic League Tournament. Exciting field trips have seen nine students go sailing on San Francisco Bay, 25 students attend a SF Giants game, and another 25 students enjoy an Oakland A’s baseball game. These trips are used as motivational experiences to students that have been struggling in school due to difficult circumstances in their lives. The school’s first Honor Roll celebration – feting students who earned five or more A and B grades on their report card – was an inspirational event.

Through it all, students are learning the important lessons of hard work, grit and patience. They have successfully adapted to changing conditions as they have navigated COVID-19 restrictions, outbreaks on campus, and in some cases, disrupted home lives.

Returning to school full-time during a worldwide pandemic has certainly presented an array of unprecedented challenges for NJUHSD. But by keeping our focus on the needs of our students, we been able to successfully navigate the myriad of obstacles associated with the pandemic. Despite all of the challenges these past few months, I am happy to report the future of the Nevada Joint Union High School District, and its students and staff, remains bright. Thank you to our community for its unwavering and ongoing support!

Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett W. McFadden writes a monthly column for The Union. He has more than 30 years of education leadership and policy experience statewide. Freelance writer Lorraine Jewett contributed to this column

Brett W. McFadden

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