The principals of John Glenn Middle School and Bedford High School reported to the School Committee Tuesday on details of the planned return to five-day in-person learning beginning Monday, April 26.
Kevin Tracey and Heather Galante said they are well prepared with physical arrangements and attention to students’ educational and emotional needs. They lauded the contributions of faculty and staff, as well as families.
All students will be either in school or fully remote; the hybrid model will be dissolved. Also, as required by the state education commissioner, students will be learning all five days; Wednesdays will be three-quarter school days.
“Our biggest pillar for returning is to feel emotionally and physically safe,” Tracey said. “The emphasis will be on students’ reconnecting, on relationship-building. All staff is focused on student well-being.” He noted that there is a wide variety of feelings among students, including some who, parents report, are “quite nervous.” Teachers and staff, he said, will “reach out to relieve anxiety.”
“We are worried about the mental health transition for so many of our students,” Galante said. “Our faculty and staff will continue to be flexible. Protocols are in place to see if kids are struggling and get them the help they need.”
The principals of Lane and Davis Schools also participated in the meeting and reported prospects for a smooth transition to full weeks in class. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade have already returned to four days a week in school.
John Glenn Middle School
“We are very conscious that the last weeks of school are not the time to make up for what has been lost,” Tracey told the School Committee. “Assessments will inform curriculum adjustments, he said, “but those in many cases will be next fall. This is not going to be an eight-week cram session.”
In answer to a question from BHS senior Ryan Doucette, the student representative to the School Committee, Tracey acknowledged that “one of my biggest concerns is making sure the remote kids still feel connected and part of our community.”
Tracey pointed out that there are sixth graders who have never been in the building to learn. They are being matched with friends so there will be “a familiar face to welcome them.”
“Middle school kids have shown incredible resilience,” the principal said. Nevertheless, “We are rightening the ship – the more structure we have, the safer the kids will feel.”
The daily routine will be “pretty similar to how we operate now,” Tracey related, with lockers off limits because they cause bottlenecks in the hallways when used. There will be no “substantive changes” to the middle school schedule.
Tracey said there are 340 academic sections, of which eight will need to be relocated to ensure three feet of distancing. The large-group instruction room is the likely destination. And there will be no schedule changes needed.
The school will employ six-foot “pool noodles” to ensure distancing during lunch, the principal reported. “In the spring we will be eating outside as much as possible.”
The principal said, “We are going to need a little help morning and afternoon with the line of cars,” as many parents remain hesitant to have their children ride school buses and are using private cars. He said the school is working with the Police Department on options, which might mean staggered arrivals and departures.
School Committee member Ann Guay suggested using the parking area at St. Michael’s Church as a satellite drop off site.
Committee Chair Dan Brosgol asked how the school can address the needs of eighth graders as they complete their middle school careers. Tracey said a staff group is developing end-of-the-year events. “Sadly, we won’t be going to Washington, DC, but hopefully we can do a little bit of team-building outside.”
A Moving-On ceremony is “a hot topic among some parents,” he acknowledged. “It’s their moment,” he said of the eighth graders. He is considering “something where there is a little bit of celebration, maybe on the fields with some music and food on the fields…. something fun for the kids.”
Bedford High School
Galante said the recent parent survey shows that 642 students are set to return, including 124 who had been fully remote. Some of the ninth graders “we haven’t met,” she noted. She said 182 BHS students will comprise the remote cohort.
“We are preserving adult-student relationships with advisories,” Galante related. Also, as recommended by students, there will be three-to-five-minute increments between periods for mask breaks, “meditative moments,” or access to teachers.
“Safety protocols are still very much in place,” Galante emphasized, including two-way corridors, masks, hand-washing and distancing. There will be three lunch periods at BHS to ensure adherence to distancing, Galante said. Students will eat at desks in both cafeterias, the large-group instruction room, and two tents.
Per students’ requests, the principal said, there will be a Zoom webinar on Wednesday morning, April 7. A similar session for parents and caregivers is planned for April 14. “We have scheduled school tours for any students that want them on the seventh and during vacation,” Galante said. Doucette thanked Galante for listening to student voices.
In answer to a question from member JoAnn Santiago, Galante said up to nine sections – “which isn’t a lot” – will need to be moved to larger rooms to ensure required distancing.
“As our building has become more congested, people are being more diligent. Everyone is complying. But she noted that she is “begging students and parents to maintain safe behavior outside of school. Please let us stay open.” Her concerns were echoed by some committee members.
“The pandemic is not over,” said Brad Morrison. We need everybody in the community to continue to be diligent about everything. Case rates coming back up and that’s on all of us.” He said he sees “people doing things on the grounds that people wouldn’t do in the building. I don’t know who they are – I don’t know who should deal with that.”
Brosgol commented that “our kids [are] not always acting responsibly. Covid is going to rage through the spring if people don’t do better.” The schools, he added, “are going to remain safe because kids do what they are asked.”
Lane and Davis Schools
The biggest challenge at Lt. Job Lane School is accommodating private vehicles at dismissal time, as the return to four days of school a week resulted in about 50 more vehicles.
“It’s not a neighborhood that is built to handle this many cars,” said Principal Rob Ackerman, and there are not a lot of solutions. He said he is consulting with police and public works. “It’s clear there are still a lot of families reluctant to put their kids on buses.”
In the building, “We expect everything to go smoothly” when five-day weeks begin Monday. Asked by Guay how students are adjusting to new rooms, he replied that “we have six new classrooms and there are always going to be a few minor bumps but it has gone very well.”
The six new teachers, he continued, “are working hard knowing they have been put into a challenging position. I have received only positive feedback. It was hard at first but credit to the kids – which has been the theme all year — they’ve adapted well.”
“We are ready to bring the kids back in,” Davis Principal Beth Benoit said. “There is very little that had to change for us.” Indeed, she noted, next Wednesday‘s “Wacky Wednesday at Davis – wear a crazy hat or come as you are.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763