Shifting schedules: Bay Area schools begin reopening process

Schools make plans to resume in-person learning activities

Harker+lower+school+students%2C+supervised+by+the+Bucknall%2FBlackford+Enrichment+and+Supervision+Team+%28BEST%29+staff%2C+run+around+on+campus+in+early+October.+The+upper+school+campus+plans+to+stay+in+remote+learning+mode+for+the+foreseeable+future%2C+with+certain+after+school+offerings+being+made+available+to+students+after+Oct.+19.+

Provided by Mark Kocina | Office of Communications

Harker lower school students, supervised by the Bucknall/Blackford Enrichment and Supervision Team (BEST) staff, run around on campus in early October. The upper school campus plans to stay in remote learning mode for the foreseeable future, with certain after school offerings being made available to students after Oct. 19.

Santa Clara County allowed schools to resume in-person classes on Sept. 23 as the county remained in Tier 2 for over 14 days. As Harker plans to continue remote learning while offering opportunities for students to visit campus, other Bay Area schools are reopening their campuses and establishing hybrid schedules.

Valley Christian Schools, which are K-12 and based in San Jose like Harker, began reopening procedures for some in-person instruction after being approved to do so by Santa Clara County on Sept. 16. 

“We felt it was really beneficial for students to be in front of their teachers. Surveys that we’ve sent out to our families [show that] a percentage of our families really wanted to have in-person instruction,” Valley Christian Schools superintendent Jerry Merza said. “Of course, we were always following state and county guidelines.”

To ensure safety, the school implemented the Darcy system, where students and faculty fill out daily surveys on an app regarding their health and interactions to aid contact tracing. Additionally, throughout the day, students and faculty are screened by 15 Darcy cameras that monitor whether they are wearing a mask and check their temperature. If a safety concern is noted, the Darcy system sends a notification to administration.

Valley Christian High School junior Mia Zhang chose to return to campus when the school asked for 250 ambassadors to volunteer and try out the new systems. Students at their elementary and junior high schools had already resumed optional in-person classes in a hybrid model, but the high school only started the week of Sept. 28.

“I really wanted to meet my teachers in person and start establishing relationships because I’m just a social person,” Mia said. “[It] was strange that I wasn’t able to see as many [students as] I was used to seeing, because only a small portion of the student body was able to go back.”

For me personally, as a teacher who is being super cautious, I would prefer waiting [and staying remote] until we have some element of herd immunity and a vaccine. I’m the kind of person that would say ‘why risk it,’”

— Donna Gilbert

Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough is also planning to create a hybrid learning environment by the end of October, where students would attend a pattern of one week of remote classes and one week of in-person classes. 

“[Crystal Springs] wants to do [hybrid learning] by the end of October, after our first quarter, but we’ll see how that goes. They have a plan in place: a week of school, and then a week off [campus]. Depending on how they do it, I’ll definitely try it out to have some social interaction,” Paul Cherian (10), a student at Crystal Springs, said. 

On Oct. 9, head of school Brian Yager sent parents an email and a video, providing an update on Harker’s current plan for remote learning. Because the online learning environment does not allow students to have access to a full social, emotional and physical experience, the administration is working to have small volunteer groups of students come to campus while social distancing and maintaining a safe environment. 

Harker is transitioning slowly to ensure that students and faculty stay healthy and safe while maintaining social distancing and mitigating the possible transmission of COVID-19.

“For me personally, as a teacher who is being super cautious, I would prefer waiting [and staying remote] until we have some element of herd immunity and a vaccine. I’m the kind of person that would say ‘why risk it,’” upper school history teacher Donna Gilbert said. 

Upper school Computer Science Department Chair Dr. Eric Nelson expressed similar sentiments, appreciating the care with which Harker is making every decision. 

“I think they’re taking a rightfully conservative approach rather than jumping in and making things up as they go along, and [they are] making a point of paying attention to the information that is coming from multiple directions with often conflicting mandates,” Dr. Nelson said. 

Saratoga High School plans to stay closed for similar reasons since it is unfeasible for them to ensure the safety of faculty and students while creating a hybrid schedule.

“Santa Clara County gave schools the option to go hybrid, but we didn’t end up doing that [because] if we were going to go back, it would be in shifts, so teachers [would be] more exposed,” Saratoga High School junior Anouk Yeh said.

Teachers at Harker received additional training during the summer for teaching remotely to enhance their students’ remote academic experience. Teachers at other schools have also been working to enhance their curriculum this fall to fit a remote or hybrid environment based on prior experience from difficulties faced in the spring. 

I miss all the little interactions — like my friends and I will [still] FaceTime, play videos together, and [be on] Discord so that hasn’t changed too much — but we can’t play soccer or basketball. And there were a lot of people that I was friendly with that I would say ‘hi’ to and I wish I could hang on to that.”

— Paul Cherian

“[When remote learning first began], my thoughts were how can I continue to do what I do in the classroom, replicate the tone, the energy, the content, the style of what I do in the classroom remotely and not change who I am as a teacher,” Gilbert said. 

At Saratoga High School, teachers have adjusted their methods of teaching and creating virtual classrooms in an effort to maintain a safe and engaging learning environment.

“Teachers were really worried about Zoom bombing last semester, so to prevent Zoom bombing, a lot of teachers [now] have a new link every class [this semester] this way it is harder for people who are not in the class to have access,” Anouk said. “We have also been using a lot of new softwares, such as Pear Deck and Edpuzzle, where teachers can share their google slides with you.”

At Crystal Springs, teachers have also implemented strategies to make remote learning more effective because the shift to remote learning in the fall was less sudden compared to the spring. For example, they’ve created a most streamlined curriculum with all their folders and files set up, and they have also utilized apps like Jamboard. 

Schools that are currently remote have created pick-up days for students to collect their materials, similar to what Harker has recently been holding for its students. At Crystal Springs, students had the opportunity to get their photo taken and pick up materials at the beginning of the school year. 

In addition to the pick up day, Saratoga High School has offered a recurring place where students can get materials whenever they need to. Students had a textbook pick up day at the beginning of the year, but they also have the opportunity to enter the textbook room from 1 to 3 p.m. every day should they need something. 

Across various schools students still miss the richness of the in-person learning experience. 

“I miss all the little interactions — like my friends and I will [still] FaceTime, play videos together, and [be on] Discord so that hasn’t changed too much — but we can’t play soccer or basketball. And there were a lot of people that I was friendly with that I would say ‘hi’ to and I wish I could hang on to that,” Paul said. 

In addition to missing the lively environment in which students could participate in classes, a struggle with distance learning for students has been maintaining the same energy as they would have while directly being next to peers. 

“There’s definitely difficulties with distance learning. Sometimes it’s a little hard to focus at the end of the day,” Anouk said.