NDB reopens campus

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The Catalyst / Brooke Horvai

Students wait in the Father Downey Garden between classes while teachers sanitize desks inside.

After nearly a full year of online learning, NDB students returned to campus for in-person classes with the hybrid model starting on March 1. Freshmen and seniors were on campus for the week of March 1, and sophomores and juniors came back the following week. All students in the hybrid option returned to campus together during the week of March 15 in their respective cohorts.

Getting back on campus has been a priority for NDB since the beginning of the year, as it is important for students to have the experience of being in the classroom and among their peers and teachers.

“While most older students can effectively learn online, being physically present in the classroom with teachers helps keep students engaged,” stated Carolina Whitty, who created and implemented NDB’s reopening plan along with the school’s COVID-19 Operations Team. “In addition, students get much more than academics at school; they learn and practice social and emotional skills, obtain mental health support and other services that cannot be as easily replicated online. I believe that distance learning is no match for the valuable experiences that students derive from an in-person education.”

Before winter break, students expected to start hybrid learning at the beginning of the spring semester. However, the return had to be pushed back and it has taken until March due to county restrictions that stalled NDB from implementing the reopening plans.

“The biggest challenge has been the constant changes to the school reopening guidelines by the State of California, and the County of San Mateo. Just when you have set your plan in place to reopen, they sometimes move the goal post, and it has been frustrating and challenging,” Whitty added.

Although students are now back at NDB, school is still far from normal. Students come to campus with staggered arrival times between 8:15 and 8:45, and go outside between blocks while teachers sanitize. Windows have to be left open and air purifiers are in every classroom, leaving students bundled up inside the cold classrooms. Regardless, students are embracing the opportunity to be back in the classroom and back interacting with their peers and teachers in person.

“My favorite part about being on campus was probably being able to see people around and chat,” said NDB freshman Niharika Nair. “I was able to meet more people than I had online.”

In order to keep the community safe, students and faculty are tested for COVID-19 weekly. The typical Wednesday testing for students has been moved to during lunch on the A days for their convenience.

Originally, a new B-day schedule was initiated which required that students leave campus at 12:45 and take their lunch with them to eat at home in order to minimize time in person. This schedule was adapted starting on March 23 to allow students to eat lunch on campus between blocks 6 and 7 and leave school at 1:30. An email from Head of School Dr. Linda Kern stated that the change came as a result of requests from students and parents.

Now that hybrid learning has begun, students, parents, and faculty are wondering when school events such as dances, spirit rallies, and graduation can be held on campus. The community can be optimistic that more in-person activities may be coming soon.

“[March 18] I had a call with the San Mateo County Office of Education… our school leadership team has been exploring ways to possibly hold some events in a safe manner, and we wanted to obtain the County’s guidance on what they considered safe events. On our call, they reiterated their position on limiting gatherings as it relates to non-essential activities (such as prom, etc.) and stated that they considered anything outside of classroom instruction, and athletics as laid out by the State sports guidance, to be in direct contradiction to their guidance,” said Whitty. “However, I laid our safe event ideas out for them, and they promised to take our questions to the San Mateo County Health Office to see if they would consider the manner in which we would conduct these events as acceptable. They also alluded that perhaps in the upcoming weeks we may see additional guidance for graduations. So for now we are keeping our fingers crossed.”

While hybrid learning comes with many challenges, it is also an opportunity for students to reconnect with their classmates and teachers and offers hope for a more positive end to a very unusual school year.

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