Figuring out the logistics of our return to school has been at the front of everyone’s mind this year. On Friday, Jan. 8, the district was given some additional clarity when Superintendent McDavid sent out an email regarding the road back to school. The thorough message gave a precise explanation of the Board of Education’s thought process, while also updating parents and students on what they should expect in the coming months.
On Nov. 15, in response to a rise in cases, Governor Whitmer sent all in-person schools back home. The surging number of new cases posed as a roadblock for BSD in our attempt to return to a non-virtual education. However, the stricter guidelines worked considerably well, as the number of new COVID-19 cases per day has gone down drastically in the past six weeks. As previously stated, a major portion of the school board’s energy this year has been devoted to getting students back in school. Nevertheless, they made it apparent, early on, that this would only take place if there was a general consensus from government officials regarding the safeness of our circumstances. Thus, receiving this email from Superintendent McDavid was certainly a silver lining for most people.
The district is aiming to fully reintegrate students into the schools by Feb. 22. The return for in-person learning is supposed to start as soon as Jan. 19 for special education and small group meetings. Elementary and middle school students will be going back on Feb. 1 and Feb. 8, respectively. Lastly, Berkley High students are currently supposed to return on Feb. 22.
These plans were finalized on Jan. 11 during a school board meeting, and information was emailed to the rest of the community the following day. In addition to confirming the days of return, Superintendent McDavid elaborated on many other details to know about what our return to school will look like.
First, elementary, middle school, and high school parents all received an Intent to Return online form that was due two to four days after receiving it. Through this form, parents and students communicate to the school whether they are going to be learning in-person or virtually for the remainder of the year.
In reference to scheduling, high school and middle school students that select to be in-person will only be in the school for two days a week. We will continue to follow the A/B hybrid system (A classes on Mondays and Thursdays and B classes on Tuesdays and Fridays, generally). On Wednesdays, all students will be at home partaking in asynchronous lesson plans made by their teachers. Having asynchronous classes on Wednesdays is an effective way for staff to clean the rooms before the other half of students enter the building. Although it is not finalized, only 50% of students will be in at a time, potentially following a first half/second half alphabetical order rotation.
Pertaining to the level of safety, freshman Drew Lash stated, “Personally, I am not worried about getting COVID-19. I am more concerned about giving it to someone who is more at risk, such as parents and staff.” This is an extremely rational thing to be concerned about as COVID-19 will continue to be on our minds inside the classroom. Safety will be the district’s top priority, and they will be making checking in on people’s well-being by daily screenings, required masks, social distancing, and other in-school restrictions. One can also check out the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) video, PPE document, cleaning vs disinfecting video, and the cleaning vs disinfecting video, all in Superintendent McDavid’s email from Jan. 12.
For teachers, preparing for this abnormal form of learning has taken a significant amount of time and effort. Chemistry and AP Environmental Science teacher, Mrs. Francis, explained that she has been “trying to ensure safety for our students and fellow colleagues – making sure we have cleaning and distancing procedures in place.” Since regular class routines are almost non-existent, teachers have been forced to make sudden alterations. “We are going to make class as normal as possible but the reality is that it will be different right now. We are going to have a big challenge in managing a lot of moving pieces. It is going to take practice, experience, trial and error, and a sharing of ideas before we start hitting a stride with live streaming. In Chemistry we are going to move to live demonstrations in lieu of laboratories. We will continue to use schooling, zoom, and digital documents over paper,” stated Mrs. Francis.
Ever since March 13th — The Day The Earth Stood Still — students, teachers, parents, and administrators have been anticipating the day we can walk back in the main doors, head to our classroom, and learn in a secure and safe environment where a sense of community is restored. The struggles of the past ten months will not be forgotten, and although there are still difficult challenges awaiting us, there is no reason not to be optimistic.
This buoyant mood can be displayed through many students, especially BHS seniors. In response to the possibility of heading back to school, senior Jessica Gurvitz exclaimed, “I am really excited. I really trust the school and the staff that they are going to do the best they can to make this the safest experience possible. It makes me really happy that I will get to go back for the end of the year.” Similar enthusiasm can be heard all around the district, as everyone is anxiously awaiting the day they can exit their “educational caves”. Gurvitz further mentioned the complexity of being a senior during this year. “Even though it won’t be ‘normal’, I am still looking forward to being with my classmates. I think that being out of school for almost a year definitely gave me a greater appreciation for the interactions with teachers and classmates. It was something that I took for granted before.” This excitement can also, undoubtedly, be seen through many teachers at BHS. Although Mrs. Francis has some worries about the risk of spreading COVID-19 and not consistently being with her husband and daughter during the day, she is, “ thrilled to see my students’ faces and hear their voices … I am excited to be able to help my ‘kids’ face-to-face.”
The uphill battle of COVID which has lasted for what seems like an eternity is hopefully beginning to plateau. Berkley School District members seem overwhelmingly positive now that there is a more clean-cut plan for the reintegration into school. While there are still many questions that remain unanswered, there is a widening glimmer of hope that Berkley students and others across the globe will return to normalcy in the near future.