Published Jan. 26, 2021
By MARTIN SEVCIK
As the chances of reopening during the 2020-21 school year become slimmer and slimmer, CHS administrators have begun discussing other opportunities for students to spend time on campus before the end of the semester. Clubs, academic support groups and social-emotional support sessions may find a new home on campus in the near future through the state-endorsed cohort model, where small groups of students attend campus for specific purposes.
CHS already has several groups of students on campus under this model, with special education students and those without internet access already attending on a regular basis. This fall, student-athletes also attended conditioning sessions, which were temporarily suspended when the December stay-at-home order went into effect.
Some parents, perhaps hearing about the success of these types of programs at various CUSD campuses, have pushed for a greater emphasis on student cohorts, encouraging administrators to bring as many students on campus as possible for in-person education through public comment opportunities at school board meetings. This type of generic education through cohorts is unlikely, as well as against the spirit of cohorts in the first place.
“CUSD may ‘serve students in-person in small, stable cohorts, as specified in the Cohort Guidance’ and we are already doing so,” CUSD superintendent Trish Dellis wrote in a Jan. 25 email to parents and staff. “The Cohort Guidance does however specifically state that operation of ‘cohorts’ is not intended to allow for the in person instruction of all students.”
That targeted instruction is the goal of the recently released CHS Intervention Action Plan, part of administrators’ response to the higher course fail rates last semester, with some students spending two to four days a week on campus in order to help boost grades or retake courses.
Connection circles, or groups for students who show signs of disengagement with school or peers, are also part of CHS’ intervention plan.
“The reality is that every kid is struggling social and emotionally,” CHS principal Jon Lyons says. “The kids that are really struggling who maybe have a prior diagnosis or a prior need have been receiving services, we’ll bring them in as a cohort. Our hope is to have three or four of those up and running for when we return from the stay-at-home order.”
Beyond those in dire need, Lyons also intends to bring on some more generic groups to increase school spirit, such as introducing freshmen to a school they’ve never attended or granting seniors the opportunity to spend a small part of their final year on campus.
Student club cohorts are also on the agenda, though are a lower priority than some of the other need-based cohorts. Some clubs have already had success with on-campus sessions or cohorts: The mock trial team held Mocky Eve, a meeting traditionally held before every major tournament, in the CHS amphitheater in late October.
“Even though we had to maintain a distance and wear masks, getting to talk with people in-person and see people for the first time that I hadn’t seen before, especially the new people that had joined the team, it made a difference,” mock trial president Sierra Seifert explains.
Seifert says that on-campus time for her club would be best spent on developing social-emotional connections, a sentiment Model UN president Grace Craig-Fulford agrees with.
“Anything else we can probably do online if we really put our minds to it, but the social aspect would be really important,” Craig-Fulford says. “I don’t think we really need a long period of time, maybe just an hour or two where we can do that.”
While those clubs, which have successfully transitioned to online tournaments, are not in dire need of time on campus, not every club is well-suited to the online world.
“Robotics is a hands-on experience,” CHS robotics advisor Tom Clifford explains. “We are meeting and doing work remotely, but it’s clearly not the same. If we can get a handful of students in the shop, then we’ll be so much better off.”
And even for those clubs who have found their niche online, there are uses for campus time beyond socializing. The Ethics Bowl team saw a potential opportunity to use campus during competition time.
“We were thinking that we would come in and be able to use campus…for kids who needed stable internet for that competition,” says Ethics Bowl advisor Marc Stafford, who brought this idea to administrators. “With the extension of the stay-at-home order we talked about it again, and we decided to not do it.”
Lyons’ goal is to be able to get these cohorts up and running as soon as possible, while also maintaining student and staff safety.
“When the fuse is lit and we can do these things, it’s gonna be a zero-to-sixty kind of experience,” Lyons says. “I’m hopeful that we hit late February or early March, the numbers start to look a lot better, we start seeing the vaccines enter the conversation, and we can really start to do some things.”
Until then, students will have to continue the now-familiar process of online learning. But now there’s a glimmer of hope in the future, at least for some.