Summit Shasta starts reopening its doors to its students amid the COVID-19 pandemic

By Ethaniel Reyes

Staff Editor

 

On April 1, 2021, Summit Shasta officially began the process of reopening its doors for students to attend campus in-person — more than a year since the school was forced to shift to a virtual setting. This has been an up-and-coming process that was in the works for months, and despite the magnitude the COVID-19 pandemic has had among Shasta students and faculty, the administration continues to gain success through their measures ensuring safety on-campus.

On May 6, it is estimated that Shasta will be able to successfully begin its final stage of their plan — allowing for a maximum 50% of the student population to return to in-person school. This has been part of a three-phase plan that ensures a steady flow of students entering the campus without putting their public health and safety — as well as on-school faculty — at risk of catching COVID-19. Students and faculty have been given emails since the beginning of the year about reopening, getting surveys from the administration about their preference in attending campus with different amounts of people attending.

Earlier this spring, the school released a survey for students to give a preference on attending in-person school. (PHOTO CREDIT: Ethaniel Reyes)

The first phase of the plan was to begin with 10% of students in the beginning of April, right before this year’s Spring Break — an estimated 47 students. Following a week after, the second phase commenced and increased the maximum capacity of students to 25%. Summit Shasta administrator Ava Petrash felt that it was important to start out with smaller groups before slowly increasing the level of capacity to make sure that their safety practices were “working logistically” to maximize safety. “We wanted to make sure that we could go for, you know, weeks at a time without having any close contact or any symptomatic folks on campus or anyone who tested positive for COVID,” she said. 

Summit Shasta isn’t the first Summit school to do this — other Summit schools across California have been starting to open up as soon as their respective counties have been given approval. Ms. Petrash noted that “San Mateo was actually the first county to go into the red tier” — meaning that all the schools here, including Shasta, have been given the green light to open up. 

Although the campus is slowly reverting back to how it was pre-pandemic, the change back is not going to be immediate. The school is still not in a position to open any classrooms and have in-person lectures like before.

This has been something that Ms. Petrash said she and the rest of the administration “wanted to own from the start”. She has explicitly stated this in the email updates she sent to students and faculty, making it clear that the purpose of reopening is not to immediately revert back into its pre-pandemic state.

Instead, it’s centered around offering Shasta students a place to work in an environment conducive to productivity and effective work time. “Returning to school was really primarily for students who did not have access to technology at home that was like allowing them to successfully be in their classes — such as internet — or even, a home environment that was allowing them to be successful,” Ms. Petrash said. 

Over the past year, the administration has realized that students at home found it difficult to practice self-control habits when they were participating in classes at home. Ms. Petrash believes that it’s due to the easiness of at-home life — making it harder to continue staying accountable. “We’ve seen a huge improvement for a lot of students who are struggling to maintain the focus and engagement in virtual school,” she stated. The decision to reopen is rooted in the guiding principle of “leave no black bear behind” —  and the admin says that reopening is for the benefit of the students and their progress in completing work effectively.

This is something that AP Math teacher Keren WuRohe has also noticed when it comes to teaching classes, mentioning that it’s effective to have someone facilitating a classroom and checking-in with off-track students. “If we’re honest with ourselves, we are all a little more productive if we feel like there’s accountability so I think for students who need to get back on track, it’s been effective to have someone just kind of like reminding them to focus.”

Ms. WuRohe has been working at Shasta since 2019 as the school’s AP Calculus and Statistics teacher — she is one of the first to return to campus. (PHOTO CREDIT: Keren WuRohe)

Changes in classroom setup have also been made more apparent for on-campus faculty and students. According to Ms. WuRohe, the school uses a pod system where every single classroom is allocated a pod of 14 students maximum, with the teachers sharing the role of a facilitator. She mentioned that “they’re mostly grouped by grade, but sometimes there’s some overlap where there’s siblings or if someone wants to be with their mentor”, and that these pods always stay in the same classroom for the entire day.

The little things of pre-pandemic, on-campus school haven’t all gone away, Ms. WuRohe said. There are still opportunities for students to hang out and socialize with each other, such as students hanging out in the grass during breaks. However, measures of social distancing and cleanliness norms are meant to be followed, even during lunch breaks. 

She feels confident that the return of “normal school” will come back next year, saying that “most people have the vaccine, including a lot of students — and a lot of schools across the country have reopened.” However, she’s sure there may be a couple differences. When asked about whether the Shasta community will likely have the sense of community that Summit schools offered before, Ms. WuRohe that it might be an adjustment for some students who’ve gotten used to isolated learning. “People just haven’t seen each other for so long or person school so there might be a little more like adjusting that person or at least I think people adjust back quickly.”

Ms. WuRohe is quite satisfied with the administration is handling reopening. She believes that they are “certainly practicing what they preach” and actively put in effort into ensuring safety and communication among faculty. “We all wish it was just “regular school” and that we should be safely in a normal classroom but that’s not the case and I think they did what they could with what they had. I don’t have any problem with that.”

 

FEATURED IMAGE: Summit Shasta has implemented social distancing protocols both in classrooms and open areas. (PHOTO CREDIT: Wren Maletsky)

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