Last week marked the first week that MBUSD students in middle and high school returned to campus for in-person learning. Like many districts in the area, MBUSD was able to move to in-person learning once Los Angeles County shifted from the small cohorts of 14 to stable groups that are permitted to switch classes throughout the day. Important protocols remain in place, such as masking, handwashing, and plexiglass dividers but as the number of vaccinations increase, especially among eligible students, the rate of infection will continue to decrease dramatically.
For some, the long-awaited return to school brought trepidation and concern over shifting from what had now become a normal routine of learning from home. For others, it was a relief to connect with peers and teachers after more than a year of what sometimes felt like a strange social experiment. The isolation from peers, the required stamina and endurance for shifting rules, and the lack of one-on-one connection with teachers, have made this past year more than a little challenging.
Middle school students and families have been especially impacted by the lack of in-person learning this school year. With no option for athletics on campus like at the high school, MBMS teens and tweens were in limbo at a time when social connection is a dramatic part of development. The numbers speak volumes – almost 90% of MBMS students have returned to in-person learning now that the schools have re-opened, and the wait list for those who have changed their mind is growing. Assistant Principal Lisa Tanita, says “It has been wonderful to see the smiling eyes of students and staff behind their masks on campus.” Tanita relishes in hearing students respond to her questions about how it is going with “great” or “awesome,” but is equally pleased with how teachers are working diligently to provide concurrent teaching and connect with the distance learners as well. Each day MBMS staff are making adjustments in the classroom and around the school to make school better than the day before.
At Mira Costa, slightly over half of the students opted to return to in-person learning the week of April 19. The number continues to grow and as the administration gets more and more requests to return, they are working daily to move kids back to class based on room size and safety limits according to Assistant Principal Daniel Pestle. With the growing numbers, there is a growing sense of hope on campus among the students and teachers. Pestle has observed a very positive feel and vibe between classes as teachers meet their students in person.
Shannon Vaughan, MCHS English teacher, says that teachers are juggling a lot with all the shifts in teaching, but the students are worth it. Vaughan shares, “Overall, the excitement is palpable, and I am ecstatic to be back teaching and interacting with my students in the classroom.” The personal connection is key to the success of the recent shift back to campus according to many. Senior Thomas Gerken shared that “Overall, it [feels] great to be back! There [are] so many faces I literally [haven’t] seen in over a year, and it [is] so nice to be able to just turn to people and have an in-person conversation again.”
Assistant Principal Tara Grings agrees that everyone is thriving from the personal connection. “People need to talk in real time…I love that we can now reach out to a student at any point to meet their needs and have an immediate impact.” Teachers have shared that they are finally back in their element – that they are happy to use paper and pens with their students and create something tangible.
The struggle to engage students in learning, whether in distance or in-person, while still supporting their emotional health has been a focus of community concern this school year. With just seven weeks left of this school year, the administration is doing all they can to ensure students feel the impact. Grings recognizes that there are areas for improvement and that they must keep at it to finish the year strong. Everyone has been pushed to the limits, she shared, and there are times that it feels overwhelming. “This is the time for unity,” Grings shared, “we are way more aligned than divided – we are all on the same side of kids.”
Whether a student chose to remain at home or return to school to finish out the year, they are all anxious for normalcy. Senior Brendan Griffin shared, “Being able to interact with my fellow classmates and teachers is something I’ve missed for a long time. It feels good to finally have that again.” All signs point to the return to a full schedule for all MBUSD students next Fall. And students and teachers appear to be ready for that day!