HOUSTON – Sept. 28, 2020 – Just before the rise of dawn on Monday, thousands of students across Spring ISD returned to campus for the final phase of the district’s Safety-First In-Person learning plan.
At the secondary level, 8th, 11th and 12th graders walked into their schools for the first time since March, for a return to school unlike any other. They are joining all the other grades who returned to school in groups on Sept. 14 and 21.
“It feels kind of different,” said Westfield High student Fernando Pineda. “They’re asking us to social distance, which is something we’ve never practiced before. The vibe definitely feels different. I think it’s going to be a challenge for all of us, but we’ll try to get through this school year and see what happens.”
Across the district, students and staff are making new adjustments as the district emphasizes health and safety protocols designed to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19 in school buildings, buses and district offices.
“Our goal is to be able to provide our families who want in-person learning with an experience that may not feel exactly like normal but is a safe alternative to virtual instruction,” said Spring ISD Superintendent Rodney E. Watson. “It’s exciting to see all of our Safety-First In-Person students back in the classroom today and we’re going to continue to work hard to ensure we provide an environment that prioritizes health and safety for everyone on our campuses.”
An estimated 50% of the district’s families have chosen to return to school, with the other half opting for remote instruction through Empowered Learning At-Home.
“I was really happy for my senior year, but this isn’t starting out how I expected,” said Westfield senior Autumn Roberts, who selected the Empowered Learning At-Home option but returns to campus daily for cross-country practice. “I like online learning, but next semester, I’ll probably make the switch to being in-person.”
Under the district’s plan, families have flexibility in moving between the two learning options. Students can always move from Safety-First In-Person learning to virtual instruction through Empowered Learning At-Home. Students wanting to move from home back into the classroom will also be accommodated as quickly as possible but that change could take up to two weeks depending on staffing and transportation arrangements.
Dekaney High School senior Trevion Coulston says despite the earlier start time for on-campus days at the high school level, he felt it would be easier for him to focus and learn on campus.
“I’m going to give it my all,” said Coulston, who has been juggling synchronous and asynchronous online learning with his training and practice schedule as a member of the Dekaney Wildcats Football Team. Rather than coming home in the evening at the end of a long practice and trying to sort through virtual assignments online, in-person classes will help him balance his daily schedule and stay on track to finish strong in his senior year.
“I’m ready to graduate,” said Coulston, who has his sights set on entering the Navy after graduation. “I’m ready to start my adult life.”
At Spring High School on Monday, senior Joshua Curda was excited to be back on campus and looking forward to spending at least part of his senior year at the school.
He took notice of the staff working to enforce the COVID-19 safety protocols. “I definitely feel like Spring is doing the best they can, and they are doing a really good job so far of trying to keep everything contained,” Curda said. “And bringing us back is something that, I think, the seniors need, and that it helps us get ready for life ahead of us.”
Spring High School senior James Gates said he was happy to be back with some of his friends in the school’s band, but he said it was more than just the social aspect. “It’s somewhat hard to get a unified section sound in band if it’s all done over the internet because of the different sounds coming from the machine.” said Gates, adding, “You can only do so much at home before you get bored of literally everything there.”
Back at Dekaney, senior Stephanie Hernandez said she and fellow seniors have missed taking part in beloved traditions that usually mark the transition into senior year, and said she was happy to be back on the Dekaney campus.
“I’m just excited to be back in person, because I struggled virtually,” Hernandez said. “I’d still do my assignments and everything, but I feel like it’s better for me to be in person because I can ask the teachers questions, and I understand better.”
As a Dekaney athletic trainer, Hernandez said she’s especially looking forward to the fall football season and this year’s soccer season, adding that she had missed being around Dekaney staff who she has come to think of as mentors and role models – including teachers, coaches and campus administrators.
“It feels good to be back, honestly, because you get to see other people,” Hernandez said. “It feels good to be outside the house, to see your classmates and your teachers.”
For Dekaney 11th Grade Assistant Principal Richard Hoard, managing a partly virtual, partly in-person school year is presenting its share of challenges, but also opportunities for creativity.
“I think it’s going to be a great growing lesson for us all,” Hoard said. “We always say in the education system that the kids need to be lifelong learners and that we’re lifelong learners. I tell the teachers, well, this is our opportunity to show them.”
Hoard said Dekaney is working especially hard now to reach out to English language learners and other special populations who might need an added level of support to make the school year successful.
“We’re doing the best we can with the situation,” Hoard said. “Maybe not always enjoying it, but embracing it – there’s the word for it – embracing it, and knowing what we can control.”
Both Hoard and Dekaney Principal Alonzo Reynolds III have high hopes for the year, including the hope that a continued safe return to district campuses will encourage more students to make the choice that is best for them, knowing that safety measures are in place to protect them should they choose to return to in-person learning.
“It’s a big step for our campus and Spring ISD, just to get kids back in here and for the kids to feel comfortable. I believe that will lead to more kids coming back,” Reynolds said. “That’s my hope, that the kids who are here will let the other kids and families know that the school is safe, with all the necessary precautions, so they can come back and we can bridge that gap that has been created.”