Middle, high school students return to campus – The Reporter | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools

Putting up festive displays is a hallmark for the first day of the academic year is a hallmark for Will C. Wood High School. While not technically being the first day of the year, Monday had a big reason to celebrate: it was the first day of in-person learning since March 2020, when all campuses closed because of the coronavirus.

Wood — as well as all of Vacaville Unified School District’s middle and high schools — reopened its campus for the district’s new hybrid schedule Monday, following the reopening of the district’s elementary schools Thursday.

The secondary schools are gradually easing students back in with the 25 percent hybrid model, where students come to campus one day a week, based on the first letter of their last name, and continue to learn from home the rest of the week. This will change after students return from spring break on April 12, where half of the students are on campus Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other half of the students are on campus Thursdays and Fridays. All students will continue to learn remotely Wednesdays.

Wood Principal Adam Rich said it was a great feeling to have students back on campus.

“We are energized to be back on campus with the students and just excited to start moving closer to normal hopefully,” he said.

That excitement was evident in the insignia chosen to welcome students back, which took on a movie theme. Leadership students created everything from symbols of Oscar statues and flashbulb cameras, a marquee reading “Now Showing: The Return of Will C. Wood” and a recreation of the famous Hollywood sign with the “wood” portion painted blue and gold to emphasize the school’s colors.

To add to the festive spirit, blue and yellow balloons were wrapped around all of the rails, and speakers in the quad blasted an array of upbeat tunes during passing periods, ranging from Beyonce to the Jackson Five to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” — the latter being a potential new anthem for the COVID era.

Will C. Wood High School students walk across the quad during a passing period Monday, the first day of in-person instruction in over a year because of the school closures due to the Coronavirus pandemic.(Joel Rosenbaum — The Reporter)

Rich said Student Council wanted to return students to that feeling of being on Wood’s campus. For ninth-graders who had not set foot on the school’s campus before Thursday, he said it would give them a sense of what it was like.

“We wanted to give them just a little bit of a feel of the school culture, to make it feel fun,” he said. “We’re trying to make it special for students who, quite frankly, have sacrificed a lot this year and lost a lot this year.”

One thing that did not change from the distance learning model was the school’s switch to quasimesters, where a semester’s worth of material is divided into two separate nine-week courses. This means that students are finishing up their last quasimester through the end of the year by taking their second, fourth and sixth-period classes.

“We’ve been doing it all year,” Rich said. “We have to do that to finish out the last three classes students have to take.”

Additionally, Rich said this would accommodate students who are still learning full-time from home.

“In order to continue to support our virtual students, we’re gonna keep the schedule the same as far as when they attend class,” he said.

The three classes will run 90 minutes, then students can pick up lunches in the cafeteria and head home at 1:30 p.m. They will also have the opportunity to receive “drop-in Zoom help” from 2 to 3:30 p.m. On the all-virtual Wednesdays, classes are 45 minutes.

Rich said approximately 40 percent of students have opted to remain in the distance-learning format, which amounts to between 200 and 250 students on campus each day.

“For a campus our size, it feels a little empty,” he said. “We’re used to having hundreds of students on campus and all that energy that comes along with that, but we will take it. We’re just glad to see kids back.”

Among the social distancing, protocols include signs throughout campus reminding students to wear masks and wash hands, spacing out desks in classrooms, sanitizing frequently, and limiting visitors.

Will C. Wood English teacher, Tracy Ruiz speaks with students by video conference Monday during in her fifth-period class. The school is gradually easing students back in with the 25 percent hybrid model, where students come to campus one day a week, based on the first letter of their last name, and continue to learn from home the rest of the week. This model is being implemented at all Vacaville secondary schools.(Joel Rosenbaum — The Reporter)

The hybrid model was evident in Tracy Ruiz’s English 10 XL class, where only one student was in the classroom while the others had either opted for distance learning or were scheduled to come in on another day. Ruiz said it was a bittersweet feeling being back on campus, as she is excited to see students in person, but she was really close to last year’s graduating class.

“I miss those faces that were here when we left,” she said. “It’s exciting and hopeful and wonderful to move forward, but I am sad the way it finished out with that group of kids.”

One surreal thing for Ruiz is that seven months into the school year, she does not recognize all of her students, having only taught them over Zoom.

“Getting reacquainted with students again is fun,” she said. “It’s good to see them in person.”

On Monday, Ruiz prepared her students in the classroom and over Zoom to read “To Kill a Mockingbird.” After a year of distance teaching, she said it became easier once she learned more about the technology but felt it was a mixed bag overall.

“In some ways, I feel my curriculum has been more on point this year just because there’s no interruptions,” she said. “Engagement is a little more challenging in an online forum.”

Ruiz hopes the remainder of the year will bring more of a balance between content and interaction.

“I want to give them as much content as I can so that they are prepared for next year,” she said. “At the same time, I’m also excited to get to know them as humans, hopefully in person.”

The elective courses also found ways to adapt. Eric Roberts’ band students could be seen practicing outside, and a camera was set up in Chip Reeves’ auto shop classroom to allow students learning from home to witness some of the projects his Auto 2 students were working on. These included putting a radiator core support in the front of a car that hit a pole as well as replacing the engine in a motor home.

Reeves also said students could receive approval to come into the shop during their asynchronous time for hands-on experience.

“Because the program’s tied to Solano Community College, they have to show that they have so many hours because this class is articulated with the college class,” he said. “We have to be able to document they had hours in the shop.”

Reeves said up to six students are allowed in the shop at a time, and they receive a temperature check upon arrival.

Rich said he hopes Wood can return to some sense of normalcy for the remainder of the year, including a way to properly celebrate seniors. A traditional prom may not occur, but he said a proposal for an in-person graduation ceremony was brought to the school board last week.

Given the past year, he also said it is a goal to frequently check in on students.

“Social-emotional wellness has been a huge concern for educators, not being able to be with our kids and check in with them,” he said. “We’re expecting students to come to us with needs and to need our support. It’s been a whole year since they’ve been with their teachers, counselors and mental health clinicians, so we want to make sure that we’re reconnecting students and supporting them socially and emotionally as they transition back to some sense of normalcy.”

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