Published March 11, 2021
By ALICIA KRUEGER
Third-grader Hadley Hamilton arrived at Tularcitos Elementary School in Carmel Valley on Monday morning ready to take on the day’s challenges. Like most of her classmates, she hadn’t attended in-person school in nearly a year, yet Hadley strapped on her mask, waved goodbye to her mom and marched through the front gates.
“Everyone was like ‘it’s okay to be ner-cited’—that’s the word for when you’re nervous and excited—but I was like, ‘I’m not nervous! I’m only excited!’” explains Hadley while pumping her fists in the air. “I was like ‘Woohoo!’ and even though no one could see it, I smiled the whole way in.”
Some students at both Tularcitos and Carmel River elementary schools were asked to switch from the teacher they began the year with to a new instructor in order to allow for COVID-19-safe class sizes and the correct allocation of teachers in both hybrid and distance learning. As one of those students, Hadley spent her first day back with her new teacher, Lisa Parker, and the rest of “Group A.”
At Tularcitos, there are only one or two classes per grade level working within a hybrid as only 25% of total parents elected for their children to return. Each in-person class has been split into two groups, Group A and Group B, which consist of 10 or fewer students. Those in Group A spend Mondays and Wednesdays in person, Tuesdays and Thursdays doing distance learning with an aid and Fridays doing a combination of asynchronous work and scheduled Zoom meetings. Those in Group B have the same schedule, but flip-flopped.
While the schedule is the same at River School, the school sees a much larger number of students considering 60% of students returned. On average, there are 140 students, including those who were in specialized cohorts prior to reopening, and 12 of 20 teachers on campus per school day, according to data collected by the school.
“It’s amazing how much we are asking of those kids in order to follow safety protocol,” notes Carmel River principal Jay Marden. “It’s so unlike anything they’ve ever experienced in school, so to have kids go home smiling proves how they’ve grown to be very, very resilient. I’m proud of them.”
Aside from acquiring and distributing all necessary personal protective equipment, rapidly rescheduling teachers and students into a foreign system became one of the greatest challenges for staff.
“We offer so much to our students at the elementary level, like specialist programs, music, Spanish, science, P.E., library, computers, counseling and more,” explains Analis Bans, an instructional coach for River and Captain Cooper elementary schools. “I needed to make sure that students had access to all those extra classes while also making sure that they had access to aids, support and teachers when they’re at home and at school.”
Both Marden and Tularcitos principal Ryan Peterson note that, in the end, it came down to the little minute details like how to stop congestion in the car line or whether a teacher can help a student open his or her lunch.
But administrators, teachers and students make it clear that everyone is willing to work towards making the best out of a tough situation. Even Tularcitos kindergarten teacher Deanna Maschmeyer notices her students pushing their comfort zones in an attempt to adapt.
“Distance learning, COVID-19 and now transitioning to hybrid made one thing abundantly clear: These kids don’t know how to interact with their peers,” explains Maschmeyer. “For three days now, I have had 15 students who only want my attention. I am trying to teach them to be independent, resourceful, confident and, most of all, a good neighbor and friend to the students sitting near them. I am having to show them how to ask a classmate for help…in March!”
In kindergarten, some students have never even been to pre-school, so understanding and abiding by the social norms brought on through school is different than anything they’ve ever experienced, but they continue to persist and embrace a new environment.
With a big smile, Principal Marden says, “There is definitely something to be said for this generation and what they’re going through.”