‘Some consistency and structure’: Nevada City School District parents discuss strengths, challenges in a hybrid school year
Erin Hartnett, whose sons attend first and third grade at Deer Creek Elementary School, said she is grateful for the way Nevada City School District has maintained a hybrid educational model since the start of the 2020-21 school year in August.
“I love their four-day model, because it helps to create some consistency and structure in their week,” said Hartnett on the elementary school’s a.m./p.m. cohort system, which allows each student to attend campus for a shortened school day, four days per week.
“It’s also just easier as a parent who works every day to know that they go everyday, and that we have a schedule around that,” said Hartnett, noting that the one full distance day — Wednesday — proves to be somewhat challenging to balance with her work.
On the other hand, Sonia Jenkins, whose son is a sixth grader at Seven Hills Middle School, said she is glad his school has been operating on an A/B cohort system, in which each student is on campus two days per week.
“Because they kept that the same as it’s always been, those two days were not disruptive at all, because we’re used to the drop-off and pick-up at those times,“ said Jenkins on her son’s on-campus days lasting the full day, from 8:20 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.
“Consistency is everything, so when you are bouncing back and forth between in-person and distance learning, being able to know week-to-week what that’s going to look like has been really important, and they’ve done an excellent job of that,” she said.
Jenkins said that, for her son, going to school on-campus for a regular schedule of classes Mondays and Tuesdays is “the best part of his day.”
The hard part, according to Jenkins, is balancing her own work with being available during her son’s virtual learning days as he is working to absorb lessons at home.
AVOIDING THE SPREAD
Jenkins said the district’s precautions as guided by public health officials — from reduced class sizes which allow for physical distancing to hand washing and face coverings — “allow us to feel comfortable letting our kids go back to school in some fashion.”
“It has been everyone’s responsibility to stick to those protocols — students, staff, everybody — and we are,” said Nevada City School District Superintendent Monica Daugherty.
“That doesn’t mean it’s foolproof, because a lot of the cases happen outside of school … but we’re doing everything we can as a school district to keep everything here moving smoothly,” she said.
One precaution, sending staff and students off-campus should they have a COVID-19 symptom or exposure, has been “a hard adjustment,” but one that families have understood, according to Daugherty,
In the first four months of the academic year, 31 staff members and 153 students were out at one point with symptoms or exposure, Daugherty wrote in an email Jan. 14. She said no staff members had tested positive within that time, and four students had tested positive “but were never on campus.”
For example, she explained, a student may have been exposed to an individual on a Friday night, found out Sunday that individual had COVID-19, and begun a quarantine rather than returning to campus on Monday. In that case, there was “never an exposure on campus,” said Daugherty.
“Up to the end of December, we had one student presumed positive on campus and we closed that cohort for quarantine out of precaution,” Daugherty wrote. “No spread occurred.”
CHOOSING DISTANCE LEARNING
Steve Gillespie, whose children attend sixth and eighth grade at Seven Hills, said his family chose to remain in full distance learning this academic year when they were given the choice last summer, primarily due to concerns of virus spread.
“We debated it,” said Gillespie.
Their decision was also motivated by doubts, at the time, that on-campus instruction could go on for long without an outbreak large enough to trigger school closures.
“We figured that we’d rather they have the consistency of distance education than start one way and then have to shift into a different way,” said Gillespie. This shift has not happened, however, and the district continues to offer both hybrid and remote instruction.
Gillespie, a retired teacher, said he was able to adjust smoothly to helping his children at home while they attend school virtually, while noting that fully remote education is “a difficult thing to ask of a lot of parents.”
Gillespie said the district “has done a phenomenal job” stepping up to a challenging year, and to a pandemic which has both brought health-related stress and demanded new skills of teachers.
“There’s communication, there’s rigorous curriculum, and the kids feel listened to,” said Gillespie, adding that both of his children look forward to their daily classes, “a testament to what (their teachers) have done with the online curriculum.”
Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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