Northgate will welcome students for afternoon learning 381 days after closing due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic
Students who choose to attend school in person will do so Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday afternoons starting March 29
“This is my twenty-second year teaching, but in many ways, it feels like my first,” said English teacher Aliza Selinger recently.
She ponders the struggles teachers face each day from distance learning, one of the largest the delivery of engaging lessons within a virtual classroom.
“It is daunting for everyone,” she said grimly, mentioning students, parents, families, and the many others who have been affected by this year’s change from learning at school to learning virtually from home.
Principal Kelly Cooper conveyed the emotions that cross her mind as well. “The feeling of helplessness knowing a student is struggling and would likely do better in a classroom is really difficult,” she acknowledged.
Change is happening and classroom doors are opening.
Northgate will open its doors and welcome students to campus four afternoons a week starting March 29. All students will continue distant learning classes for their six courses, which will occur during a new bell schedule starting at 8:45 a.m. and ending at 12:05 p.m. At 1:05 p.m., students will have either an at-school or at-home distance afternoon class assignment.
The opening is part of the plan that the Mt. Diablo Unified School District board members and teachers agreed to, in order to continue distance learning in the mornings and to open campus in the afternoons for support, connection, and enrichment for those who elect to return in the afternoons of either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday.
Physiology teacher Cori Starr is ready to welcome students to her class. “I am looking forward to students asking questions, having conversations and playing in the lab,” she said enthusiastically.
German teacher Nancy Grabow said she is also ready. “I’m excited, nervous, apprehensive, antsy on how it will go and what it will look like, but mostly I’m so thrilled to be seeing my students again!” she said.
Starr and Grabow are not alone in their joy as the school plans for a limited afternoon opening. Many families, approximately a third of the total enrollment according to Cooper, have signed up about 500 students to go back to school in person.
Sophomore Matthew Stark plans to return on Thursday and Friday afternoons for Jazz Band I and said he looks forward to his afternoons on campus.
“When you are in person, it is so inspiring to hear your fellow music members play and grow as musicians individually. These musicians enhance the whole ensemble. Meeting in multiple bands everyday via zoom is missing this element,” Stark said, reminiscing his in-person experiences.
“If we are able to go back to play in a safe manner, this problem will be solved and I will be ecstatic,” said Stark.
Cooper and vice principals Craig Bocks and Kara Ravina are preparing student schedules and assignments for students who will be either at school or home for the afternoon sessions. Cooper said her goal is to provide an in-person academic and social experience that benefits students.
“I feel great about all that we have done to reopen safely. We are prepared for any of the scenarios that may come our way as we open back up to students,” Cooper said. “We have worked really hard to re-imagine classroom spaces, get signage throughout the school … and distribute our PPE to every classroom.”
Cooper added that the school has been “working already with protocols and contact tracing with athletic teams, as they have been going for nearly the entire school year.”
Students recognize the challenges of this year.
“Learning online has been difficult for me, but some parts have been easier, like organizing my assignments and more online resources being available,” senior Yoonji Kim said, speaking of how she was being affected academically.
Kim said she’s pleased to have sports back for herself and others.
“Sports haven’t been a big change since I play tennis, but I think it would have been drastic for those who rely on sports heavily, especially for their future education and career,” noted Kim, recognizing the hardships of athletes involved in sports that have been more limited this year.
Aliza Selinger, who teaches freshman and sophomore English, spoke recently of the processes teachers were taking in order to get vaccinated for the return to school, as well as the importance of welcoming students back.
“Fellow Northgate teachers helped me secure my vaccinations and I am grateful for this,” Selinger said.
She will teach her core classes online in the morning and will lead an afternoon virtual study session due to the high demand of students continuing remotely. A parent of two children in the MDUSD district, she is thrilled that in-person classes are starting. “I understand that students need more interaction and that for some, being in the classroom can help them feel better about themselves and the world around them,” she noted.
Face masks will be a required part of student and staff attire.
Recently, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas lifted the mask mandates in that state and completely restored business capacities, with the easing of masks becoming a nationwide controversy.
According to The Washington Post, “the Centers for Disease Control published new research reaffirming that mask mandates can slow the spread of the coronavirus and that increased virus cases and deaths are associated with allowing dining at restaurants.”
Despite these recommendations from the CDC, other states are planning on following Texas’s example, according to news reports.
Speaking to these events, Cooper voiced her opinion on her belief that lifting the mandate was “a bit short-sighted” and also a bit “politically” motivated. “It will be interesting to see if that reverses (nationally) in the next couple of weeks due to a spike in infection rates, or if they just power through it with some disregard for the numbers,” she said.
Students and staff questioned about masks said they welcome them for safety of all.
Selinger bristled at the idea of some places easing restrictions. “It makes me frustrated because if we follow science, then we should all wear masks,” she said. “Statistics show that masks can slow the spread” of the virus.
“I know they can be uncomfortable and annoying at times, but it is our part to take to decrease cases and go back to life before COVID,” stated Kim, of masks. “I believe that it is risky and dangerous for some groups. We should definitely be extra cautious during these times. We need to bring more awareness of the importance of masks.”
Cooper said she looks forward to a safe return for students, staff and student athletes now that most teams are or will be practicing or competing.
“Sometimes, a decision we make about not following safety measures affects many more people than just our inner circle. We do have to continue to do what is right for our own health, but also for the health of those around us,” said Cooper.
On a finishing note, Cooper expressed her interests: “That social responsibility is something we hope that we help to instill and reinforce in our students.”