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Nevada Joint Union commences hybrid education — in-person and remote

Rebecca O’Neil
Staff Writer

For the first time since March, on Monday the Nevada Joint Union High School District opened its doors.

Students, faculty and staff participated in discussions in the classroom and across the internet as they began the second quarter of the 2020-21 school year.

Superintendent Brett McFadden said the district originally planned to open campus doors on Oct. 26, but moved the date up by two weeks to coincide with other academic transitions.

McFadden said the two cohorts of students — Cohort A attending class in-person from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays; and Cohort B attending class on campus Thursdays and Fridays — are divvied up alphabetically. McFadden said exceptions are made for siblings in differing cohorts.

McFadden said students will participate in a hybridized model of distance learning and in-person education until the threat of COVID-19 has cleared.

“Even then, we will never return to normal,” McFadden said. “There will be lasting changes in our community that affect how we go about operating public agencies and public services.”

McFadden said students are technically losing an hour and 45 minutes of daily instruction time, but that the sacrifice is worth it.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” McFadden said. “We want to get kids onto campus so we can offer services to them. Students do best when they have human interaction.”

In the meantime, McFadden said around 20% of his students have opted into 100% remote learning.

Twenty of the 160 “certificated staff” in the district will continue their work remotely, seven of them teachers, McFadden added, but everyone wants to be there.

“All those (staff members) have demonstrated that they have preexisting medical conditions or that they had someone in their household — child, spouse, significant other — at risk,” McFadden said. “It’s a very low number compared to other schools and speaks to the solid dedication that the staff of the district have when it comes to serving the community.”

McFadden said he remains impressed with his educators’ capacity amidst the current obstacles and constantly moving goal posts. He does not follow social media for personal health reasons, but wanted to address any “noise” about teachers staying home for reasons unrelated to health.

“The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of these teachers are working double time alongside other staff to meet the needs of their kids during this crisis,” McFadden said. “To teach both in person and online is extremely difficult.”

‘A HUGE CHALLENGE’

McFadden said the district is eager to embrace its role as support to parents who may be struggling to make ends meet amidst coordinating childcare.

“This has been a huge challenge for us and the community, but throughout the nation as well,” McFadden said. “We meet the educational, social-emotional and mental health needs, and perhaps the family needs of this community as well.”

Noah Levinson, principal of Ghidotti Early College High School, said first-day jitters were allayed by masked smiles.

“Seems like in 2020 we’ve all been living in the world of the unknown,” Levinson said. “It’s amped up anxiety for teachers and students.”

Levinson said because Sierra College is solely participating in remote learning, 70% of Ghidotti’s 179 students who have opted into hybrid education will attend class at a temporary site on Park Avenue.

Levinson said the portables were once occupied by the Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning and NU Tech before it merged with Silver Springs High School.

“So, yeah, we’re going back to school, but it’s a school site none of us have seen before,” Levinson said, adding that he was grateful for student leaders who decorated the campus before the quarter began.

Levinson said the cohorts get a bit more complicated at Ghidotti because upperclassmen attend in-person classes in the beginning of the day and lowerclassmen make up a separate learning contingent in the afternoon. This is due to limited educators and the number and type of classes offered to high schoolers.

Nevada Union Principal Kelly Rhoden said she is sure her faculty will use the digital skills taught to them for remote learning for the rest of their careers. Even entering a new level of technological comfort, the excitement to return to campus was palpable.

“The push to bring students back was for academics,” Rhoden confirmed. “That being said, the biggest piece of this will be students’ mental health and socialization. The Ag department, choir, dance, drama, the clubs — they’ve been missing all that. That is the energy that makes NU culture what it is.”

“At a distance it’s really hard to do that,” Rhoden added.

Rhoden said the halls of NU felt a little eerie, but she is proud of her students.

“It’s different. I’m used to 1,500 kids and we’re looking at 600 kids,” Rhoden said. “It was pretty quiet on campus and very controlled. The kids were outstanding, they did a great job.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com.


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