The first day back on campus Monday was unlike any other at schools throughout Morgan Hill, as students, teachers, parents and faculty resumed in-person instruction in a post-pandemic world of social distancing, hygiene guidelines and new remote learning technology that brings students from their homes into the classroom.
At Britton Middle School on April 12, hundreds of masked students lined up outside the campus gate for school staff to check their temperature before entering the campus. After passing the symptom screening, each middle schooler was directed to sanitize their hands from a dispenser just inside the gate, then proceed to pick up an individually wrapped morning “brunch” from a table to eat outside in the quad before class started.
In the classroom, student desks were spaced at least four feet apart—based on federal public health recommendations—while teachers began class with a high-tech audiovisual system that allows them to see, hear and interact with children both in the classroom and those remaining at home for distance learning.
About 360 students’ parents opted in for the April 12 in-person return to school at Britton Middle School, Principal Nanette Donohue said. That’s slightly more than half the student body.
April 12 was a milestone throughout Morgan Hill Unified School District, as about 3,900 students returned to all 14 schools for in-person learning—most of them for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020. Parents were given the option of sending their children back to campus, and those returning represent a little more than half the district’s total student population.
Donohue said the first day back at Britton was “absolutely outstanding” as she praised the students, teachers and school staff for following all the posted guidelines and recommendations. She said even after spending hours preparing and practicing the new Covid-19 procedures, school staff still had to overcome the “first day jitters” on the eve of the April 12 return.
“The kids brought life to the campus. It was a missing piece—that personal interaction with the kids—that filled our buckets,” Donohue said after class Monday. “The students were well behaved, they respected each other. Today was a special day.”
She added that Britton’s teachers “have been working so hard to make sure the experience was as strong for kids on Zoom as it was for kids in the classroom.”
Like other MHUSD schools, Britton’s daily bell schedule is a “hybrid” plan that continues to include distance learning for students that opted in for in-person instruction. At lunchtime, students at Britton return home after picking up a meal to-go provided by the school. The afternoon lesson plan, four days a week, is remote for all Britton students. Wednesdays are for distance learning all day, for all students at Britton.
Some MHUSD schools have room to phase in more students for in-person learning before the academic year ends in May. Donohue said that some Britton parents have changed their minds after initially choosing to keep their child home, and the school has plenty of classroom space to accommodate more students.
Another milestone not to be overlooked at Britton is the return to a new campus that, for the first time, is not an active construction zone with students on site. Throughout 2018 and 2019, MHUSD completed the bulk of a campus-wide, $50 million-plus modernization of Britton Middle School. Even during the first few months of the 2019-20 school year, portions of the project were still under construction while class continued before the pandemic.
The project includes three new classroom buildings, an outdoor quad and related facilities. The next phase of the project will include a new student union and administration building, which have not yet begun construction.
But on April 12, for the first time in more than two years, Britton students were not greeted by construction noise and safety barricades.
“Teachers were using classes that have never been used before. Some were saying it feels like a college campus—very warm and inviting,” Donohue said.
The absence of students at Britton after March 2020 allowed the district to hasten the construction of the new science building on the campus, according to district staff. Other MHUSD school construction projects, still underway, are a modernization of portions of Jackson Academy of Math and Music and technology upgrades at Paradise Valley Engineering Academy.
The April 12 return to in-person learning went smoothly at all MHUSD campuses.
District spokeswoman Lanae Bays noted that some students, teachers and classrooms have been in the classroom since November under a pilot program. These schools had their Covid-19 procedures “down pat” on April 12. Staff at other schools were able to learn from the pilot programs to prepare for their in-person return to campus, Bays said.