Local sixth graders return to school for in-person learning

March 21, 2021 — by Carolyn Wang

In-person sixth graders work behind plastic shields around their desks while online students attend class through the Zoom window displayed in the front of the classroom.


Susan Kim, who teaches sixth-grade core at Redwood Middle School, stood outside her classroom on the morning of March 4 dressed in a scarf, Uggs and a furry beanie. She wore a bright smile under her mask as students filed into the classroom.

“I've been Zooming from my empty classroom every day since August,” she said. “Finally, the seats have occupants.” Sixth graders had the opportunity to return to school on March 4 or March 5 for the first time since the campus closed nearly a year before. 

Students have the choice of learning through the hybrid model or staying at home for online learning. Based on a Feb. 27 email sent to middle school parents by Saratoga Union School District (SUSD) superintendent Kenneth Geisick, 53 percent of sixth-grade families want to keep their child in distance learning, 24 percent are ready to return for in-person Hybrid Learning and 23 percent prioritize staying with their core teacher regardless of mode. 

Sixth-grade students whose families opt for in-person education are split into two stable cohorts based on their core classes (history, literature and language art). According to the newly released reopening schedule, the first cohort, Core A, is meeting in person on Mondays and Thursdays, while the second cohort, Core B, is meeting in person on Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesdays remain over Zoom.

In order to follow safety protocols, all students who returned are required to wear masks and sit in desks that are 6 feet apart. Both students and teachers have plastic shields around their desks, classrooms have automatic hand sanitizer dispensers and HEPA air filters. Students eat and socialize in designated brunch areas. 

To manage teaching to distance-learning students and in-person students at the same time, teachers received new technology including two laptops, a Smart TV,  an Apple TV and a Poly Cam, a camera that has the ability to shift and track teachers as they move around the classroom.

Principal Steve Hamm and administrative assistant Selena Weaver delivered safety equipment and classroom supplies to teachers, Kim said. She said they also check in the students from the drop off and pick up lunch requests from each classroom. 

Out of Kim’s 60 core students, 26 students returned to in-person learning. Currently, she teachers in-person and online students simultaneously.

On the first day back in person, Kim had her first laptop on a rolling cart and moved it around the classroom. Her Zoomers could see the entire classroom from her second computer and Poly Cam, while her Roomers could see the Zoomers from the classroom’s giant 70-inch TV.

“On that first day, I was preoccupied with the Roomers, so I really appreciate the patience of the Zoomers and their families,” Kim said.

Sixth-grade core teacher Kathleen Schelhorse also found difficulty balancing the interaction between the Roomers and the Zoomers.

“My biggest challenge so far has been keeping both my Roomers and Zoomers feeling like they are still one big happy class,” Schelhorse said. “I don't want my Zoomers to feel like they are simply observers. They are valued participants in our class.”

A large factor underlying Kim’s return was her ability to get the vaccine, which opened to educators in late February; she got her first shot before the return to in-person learning. Kim said that she is glad to have returned because of how happy her students are. 

“One student said ‘I wish we can do this every day’ as he was leaving at the end of the day,’” Kim said. “Even the shy students were smiling with their eyes.”

According to a March 19 email sent to parents by Geisick, 158 seventh and eighth graders returned to school on  March 18 and March 19.

“Teaching in-person and online simultaneously is new to all of us, so naturally there is a learning curve,” Schelhorse said. “But each day gets better.”


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