By ANDREW WANG
A pod of 10 elementary school students, all donning masks, scurry through the external door of their classroom and sit down at their desks, six feet away from their peers. Welcome to All Saints Day School’s new on-campus plan, now possible under the California Department of Public Health’s small cohort model.
“I think what the cohort model does is it allows for this specialized instruction that kids can get in a small group with their teacher,” says Sara Brown, the assistant head of school at All Saints. “After all the time we’ve been away from school, getting kids back into the routine of school and making sure we’re hitting all the marks of our curriculum have been some of our goals.”
Since early September, the county has been reviewing applications for this new partial reopening model, where small groups of students — a maximum student to teacher ratio of 14:2 per classroom — can return back to in-person schooling if the necessary safety precautions are taken. All Saints recently received their license to have grades one through five return under these guidelines.
Students attend class with their two homeroom teachers in cohorts of eight to ten students and are expected to only interact with those in their group. Subject-specific teachers arrive in the classroom via Zoom.
“It’s sort of a hybrid model in the way that we’ve got collaborative teachers working together and we’re streaming in specialty classes — art, music, foreign language and P.E.,” says Scott Fujita, the head of school.
Fujita and Brown were instrumental in developing the on-campus precautions for this transition. Apart from the expected mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing, All Saints has implemented a new daily drop-off system, where families are sent questions via text every morning about their student’s health and temperature. Once students arrive at the curb on campus, their temperature is taken by Rebecca Turnipseed, the recently hired school nurse.
“When we pull up to the school driveway, we look at each other and say, ‘OK mask up,’” says Nicola Reilly, who has a third grader and a seventh grader attending All Saints. “It’s a totally different experience from when you used to get out of the car, walk your kid to the classroom, hug and kiss goodbye. There’s none of that.”
Another safety precaution makes use of All Saints’ large backyard, which is now sectioned off into 10 different areas. Each of these areas accommodates just a single cohort of students for the day to keep every student with their group. The next day, the cohorts rotate to play in the next area.
“The goal is for kids to stay within their cohort all day and make sure they’re only interacting with those two teachers and not mixing with other students,” Brown says. “So we have to do that for recess as well.”
The school has been working closely with medical professionals from the county’s Public Health Department to stay updated on the newest guidelines and regulations. Students are expected to comply with the school’s rules because safety is critical to minimize risk.
“Luckily we haven’t had any issues yet,” Fujita says. “A lot of that comes down to partnership with families and having families work with their kids to understand what the processes are.”
Amy Tomlinson is the mother of a first grader and a third grader that attend All Saints. Because her kids are now attending in-person class, it fell upon her to familiarize them with the rules.
“First I went over it myself and read the whole thing,” Tomlinson says. “It provided a lot of assurance for me and my husband because, yes, safety was a concern, but we felt that the school did a very thorough job setting out the guidelines.”
All Saints, like most other schools in the state, started off the year with distance learning at all grade levels, but community concerns over educational quality and emotional health prompted the school to look into reopening.
“We made a point to survey our parent community multiple times — last spring, summer and recently — just to find out where they are on things,” Fujita says. “What we found was there was this tremendous support for getting the kids back on campus.”
Although most parents of the elementary schoolers opted to send their kids back to school, a small number decided to keep their students at home. These students are also assigned a cohort and Zoom into their classrooms during school hours.
On Oct. 6, All Saints received their general reopening waiver for students up to the sixth grade. At the time of publication, the plan is to have the sixth graders rejoin the elementary schoolers, kindergarteners and preschoolers on Oct. 19.