Pivoting to Hybrid Learning Soon

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(Alicia Keenan, Photographer)
Miramonte junior Ania Keenan has a “classroom” in her bedroom that she uses for distance learning.

    Although Contra Costa County remains in the state’s COVID-19 Purple Tier, the Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD), which includes Miramonte High School, is busily preparing for transitioning to a hybrid learning model when the county drops to the Red Tier.
    To that end, AUHSD surveyed parents and students to see how many would return to classes on campus, and who would continue remote learning. The overall results for the district showed 35% opting to remain in remote learning and 65% wanting the hybrid model, which combines in-person and remote learning. Miramonte High School’s numbers were 22% remote and 78% hybrid.
    “I’m really, really excited about bringing our students back. I know there’s a lot of nervousness about safety, and it’s my top priority,” said Miramonte Principal Julie Parks. “We’re committed to getting everything together now so that when we move back into the Red Tier, we’ll be ready to pivot into a hybrid model and get our kids back to Miramonte.”
    Miramonte junior Ania Keenan looks forward to going back to in-person learning. “I’ve been covering the School Board meetings on Zoom for the school paper and I really appreciate the care and transparency they’re exhibiting. The distance learning this fall is much better than it was in the spring,” she said. “They’ve also put a lot of work into creating the hybrid model as well as doing things around campus to keep us safe. But I am still nervous about going back.”
    Students will be placed in either Cohort A or Cohort B for a combination of in-person and distance learning. Mondays both groups will be in distance learning with Cohort A on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays while Cohort B has remote learning. On Wednesdays and Fridays, Cohort B will be on campus with Cohort A learning remotely.
    “We also have Cohort C made up of the students who won’t be attending in-person classes. But we have attached each student in Cohort C to either Cohorts A or B. They will be live streaming the classes their cohorts attend,” said Parks. “We’ve also built-in special office hours for them to ask questions.”
    In addition, Parks and her team developed a plan that allows people to pivot in and out of the hybrid model if they happen to get sick. “People get sick all the time – colds, flu – or they might need to quarantine. We have to be ready for that,” she said.
    Parks acknowledged the challenge teachers will have managing three cohorts at the same time. “It’s a big change mid-year. But we feel we’re up for and prepared to meet all the challenges.”
    When Contra Costa County goes into the Red Tier, Parks and her team will have a two-week period to transition to the hybrid model, which includes staff development and student tours. The staff at Miramonte are also working on procedures for entering and exiting school grounds, moving around spaces, entering and exiting classrooms, using restrooms and more. A new staff member was also hired to work specifically on contact tracing. Currently, all staff receive daily health screenings and regular COVID testing.
    “Our goal is to have everything queued up and ready to go so we can transition quickly into hybrid learning. Meanwhile, we continue to execute distance learning at the highest level possible. We’re happy to see the most recent progress reports show student achievement increased dramatically.”
    Parks and her staff monitor academic progress closely. She noted kids struggling with distance learning have brought their grades up as well.
    Keenan agreed not all her fellow students do well with distance learning: “The transition to distance learning in March put the bulk of the responsibility on the student. Teachers are doing their best in a difficult situation. Fortunately for me, I’m fairly self-motivated, but some of my friends need more one-on-one learning, and a few have used tutors to help.”
    One tutor used by a number of science and math students at Miramonte and Campolindo for added instruction is Tom Clements.
    “In my group AP Physics and Chemistry tutorials, for example, I toggle between Zoom’s screen share options for slide shows and my own direct-to-students whiteboard presentations,” said Clements. “This helps keep students focused and engaged.”
    Student Jake Dashiell agrees: “Focusing on Zoom classes online for the whole class can be difficult. But when the lessons are interesting and interactive, I can always take in all the information.”
    Clements noted a bonus feature of Zoom allows the recording of classes in the cloud. If a student misses a tutorial or wants a quick refresher, they just have to access the Zoom video.
    While Miramonte junior Leo Cardozo hasn’t used a tutor so far, he has taken advantage of teachers’ office hours to get help. “In Zoom, we have breakout rooms for smaller groups, and the teacher goes around to each group to be sure we understand the material. The teachers have also been very responsive to emails if I ever have an issue,” he said. “The teachers want to be sure we understand course content.”
    For social interaction, Cardozo plays tennis with a group three-plus times a week and does online calls with his friends. “It has been hard not seeing each other face to face. But the online calls on different platforms help socially and when we need to discuss homework assignments,” he said.
    While excited to return to campus in the hybrid model, Cardozo also feels concerned about what actions would be taken if a COVID-19 outbreak occurred. He was happy to hear the district had hired someone to do contact tracing should this happen: “They’ve been pretty good finding protocols to keep us safe.”
    In distance learning, classes begin at 9 a.m. most mornings with a few mornings even later. The hybrid schedule has a late start on Mondays but an 8:30 a.m. start Tuesdays – Fridays with students needing to get up early enough to get ready and drive to school.
    “It will be a change,” Cardozo said. “I’m definitely guilty of getting out of bed at the last minute and hopping on a Zoom call.”

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