As schools have begun opening back up again across Los Angeles County, many teachers are finding the transition to be strange yet rewarding.
Districts across the county, including in the Santa Clarita Valley, have implemented COVID-19 safety precautions so as to follow the guidelines from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to get students and staff back to their regular in-person campuses. William S. Hart Union High School District students, for example, who wish to remain at home during this time have been transferred to fully online schools such as Learning Post Academy and Hart at Home.
The first transition this spring from fully online learning to hybrid learning proved to be difficult for many teachers.
“I came back at the end of March for [hybrid learning], and I would guess maybe 20-25% of the kids came back to campus. So, that was hybrid because we had the class on Zoom, we called them our ‘Roomies’ and our ‘Zoomies.’ We had both simultaneously. I didn’t even know how to prepare,” said Tammy Kornfeld, a photography teacher at West Ranch High School.
“It was such an obstacle,” she continued. “To this day, I don’t feel like I could instruct another teacher on how to do it because I don’t think I was very effective at it. The nature of my class is very technology based, and that was really hard to transmit online… the kids at home were still stuck with cell phone pictures and doing everything through Google Classroom, and so it felt very inequitable, like no one got the best situation. If they were home they were truly Covid-safe, but they didn’t have Adobe Photoshop and the kids in the classroom had to make compromises because I would be on my camera on Zoom. I feel like nobody got really a fair time.”
These difficulties that came with hybrid learning were shared by teachers across the district.
“Honestly the preparation wasn’t that difficult, although I didn’t realize how challenging it would be having most of the kids still at home,” said Jodi Guerrero, an English teacher and Academic Decathlon coach at Saugus High School. “It reminded me of being a one-woman band, where I have instruments under my arms and a drum on my rear-end, and it just felt like I was trying to communicate via Zoom with the camera. I always have the lessons in place, I always knew what we were going to be doing, but it was just trying to make sure that I could accommodate the four to 10 people in the classroom and engage them while being behind a plexiglass screen and on camera at the same time.”
With all students — besides those choosing to transfer to fully online high schools — returning to in-person school at the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic school year, there was anticipation among some teachers to teach in the classroom once again without the distraction of being on camera simultaneously.
“It’s wonderful, the energy is great,” Guerrero said, noting the ad-libbed exchanges between students and no longer feeling frustrated by muted students on Zoom not laughing at what she said.
“It was like being the worst kind of comedian in a room where no one responds, so I really love the give and take. I like the energy of the kids, it feeds on more energy. I feel so much more at home in the classroom and so much more comfortable. Of course this is my method, this is how I started way back in 1999, so I’m just glad to be back on campus and I think the kids are, too.”
Students have been relatively compliant with COVID-19 regulations, according to teachers The Proclaimer spoke to. Following regulations set by LA County, students are required to be masked inside, however can remain maskless outside during lunch, passing periods and sports games.
“I don’t budge for a bit, they have to wear their mask in my class, and it does the usual thing where it dips below their nose, and no kid is giving me push back when I just remind them,” said Kornfeld. “In the hallways they have to wear it, and sometimes then it’s a little reminder. I always have spare [masks] with me, and they signed a document when they came on to campus. They knew when the school year started that this is our policy, and anyone who doesn’t want to do it has to go to Learning Post Academy. Kids do it, it’s not like those videos you see at Target or Trader Joe’s of people freaking out, because there’s a level of authority here… I find most students to be happy and compliant. They do it.”
“We’re not having a lot of problems with noncompliance of masks, almost every student to a person is incredibly eager to be there,” said Sean O’Brien, an English teacher and football coach at West Ranch. “They want to be there, they want to learn and they’re very grateful that we’re doing the job that we’re doing.”
Within the Keppel Union School District in the Antelope Valley, there have been concerns regarding students eating breakfast in the classrooms each morning, along with noncompliant staff members with COVID-19 regulations.
“There have been some staff members who have been noncompliant regarding wearing masks in classrooms or in buildings,” said one teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity. “A teacher complained to the principal regarding an assistant who kept on wearing the mask down. Some weeks later, I had to write an email to the principal about the same assistant.”
“My partner teacher and I have both broken down in tears because it did not seem like the school or district was actually ready to open with the proper precautions or procedures to do when a Covid situation comes up,” the teacher continued. “There have been many mix-ups in the office allowing students back in class when that child was supposed to be in quarantine.”
As for school sports and sporting events in SCV, schools in the Hart District struggled with team members needing to miss games while quarantining, and some have even had to cancel games completely.
“[Football’s] a huge challenge because it’s a little different environment where we’re not masked but we’re outdoors, so those two things kind of cancel each other out,” O’Brien said. “But we do test every week. We are hit a tiny bit, you know there’ll be one player who tests positive or who’s contact-traced, but it’s almost always we feel like that [student] was an important person. Every time, it’s a key player. At West Ranch, we have been fortunate because we haven’t had a single contest cancelled in football. But, I think every other school has had at least one, and I think Hart has had either two or three. We’ve only played five. So, most schools have lost out on a portion of their season.”
Although most teachers are adjusting well to in-person schooling once again, there have been some major challenges regarding lesson planning due to the aftermath of the 2020-2021 school year.
“Our primary concern is, ‘How am I going to not only teach the students, but also make up for the holes in their learning because of last year?’” O’Brien said. “[I teach] 11th grade, so my kids would be a 10th grader coming in. We all know that last year we weren’t able to do as good a job as we would have liked, we didn’t help students master as much material and process as we wanted to and we had to make decisions on what to leave out. Well, now we’re on the other side of that, it’s now time to try and cover those things that we didn’t cover before on top of the ordinary curriculum. We have some skill gaps here that we have never had before, how do I teach that skill gap and get mastery on that thing without losing ground on the things we have to do for this year?”
Teachers have also seen a large increase in absences due to students contracting COVID-19 or coming into contact with another student who has tested positive.
“A lot of my colleagues are reporting that about maybe 10% of any given class is just gone, on any given day, is just gone, and those kids will be gone for extended periods,” O’Brien said. “And this is assuming they don’t get sick. They have the Covid virus but don’t show symptoms, if they are unvaccinated they still need to stay home. That’s not even counting the ones who actually get ill and are out for even longer. That’s probably our biggest challenge, trying to juggle the needs of the students who are out, because it’s really just not a simple matter of, ‘Here’s the work, do it.’ That doesn’t cut it.”
In Kornfeld’s classes, it’s about “trying to change even just the culture of my classroom, like don’t even come if you’re sick.” Even if a student tests negative, “if you don’t feel good, you need to honor your body and stay home. I have a ton of kids absent. It’s hard. It is definitely a lot of kids that are out.”
“I think that in the past, West Ranch culture has emphasized grades over mental health. I don’t think this culture was necessarily driven by counselors or teachers but rather a mix of parent expectations, increased competition for college acceptance, et cetera.” said Kornfeld.
Overall, teachers and students alike are grateful to be back on campus, and with all the safety precautions being put in place, there is hope that schools could return to complete normalcy in the future, despite rumors that schools may need to return to hybrid learning.
O’Brien said there’s no official plan to return to hybrid learning at this time, nor a district position on bringing it back, but “having said that, I think it would be naive in the extreme to believe that there is no outline for hybrid sitting in a drawer somewhere.”
“We are resisting the move to go back to hybrid learning. We’re resisting that hard,” he noted. “COVID-19 is not working with us to stop hybrid. We need to. All of these mitigation efforts, the masking, the vaccination, the testing – some people are using those plastic shields – all of these mitigation efforts are an attempt to keep us in school. I think most people get that. But for those few people that don’t get it: we’re doing this because we want to stay here. It’s not a control move, we all want to see, well, half of your kid’s faces. We’re dying for that. And that’s why we have masks, that’s why we have sanitizer — to keep this going.”
This is Part 2 of a series focused on the “new normal” of schools in the Santa Clarita Valley and how districts, teachers and parents are acclimating to in-person learning despite the ongoing pandemic.
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