Bedford High School leadership is leaving no stone unturned in its preparation for full reopening planned for April 26.
But there’s only so much school officials can do to deter the spread of the coronavirus. For maximum safety, it will take “collective responsibility.”
That message was delivered during a Zoom webinar for BHS parents and caregivers Wednesday, presented by Principal Heather Galante, Assistant Principals Thomas Casey and Daniel Hudder, and Brian DeChellis of the Counseling Department.
“Our building is going to be much more dense in population,” Galante acknowledged. She told the webinar that more than 80 percent plans to attend — 664 students in the building, while 161 opted for the remote option.
“Our worry isn’t during the school day. It’s really the out-of-school behavior,” she said. “As the weather gets nicer it’s good that people are outside and not gathering inside. But we still are a little bit worried about the potential spread outside of school.”
The principal reminded parents that sports and other activities are suspended if the virus re-emerges and forces a switch to all-remote learning. “We know they are a huge motivator to get kids in school and keep them doing academically well.”
Galante said there is no exact threshold for what it would take to retreat to the remote model. When that step was taken in the fall, she noted, it was because contact tracing had become untenable.
On Wednesday there also was an emphasis on social and emotional health concerns inherent in the return to school.
“Your child may have a range of reactions to the transition back. They may feel like strangers to one another,” DeChellis said. “I’ve been talking to a lot of students who have come back over the past few weeks and they were really equating it to the first day of school – feeling nervous, not knowing what to expect. For a lot of kids, this will be the first time in the building for a year.”
“As a department, we are really making ourselves available,” DeChellis said of the counselors. “The range of reactions is normal. We are going to be there for the students.”
The counselors’ goal, he continued, is “to always help the children feel connected and feel supported. We cleared our schedules for that week – and if needed the following week. We are hoping to be visible and make sure if they have questions, they should reach out to us or an adult in the building.”
He suggested that adults “try to retain familiar routines – they are comforting for everyone.” Students, he said, are “going to almost need to reset the dynamic,” even with their friends.
The administrators shared a lot of practical information, most of which was presented to students at a virtual meeting on April 7. Galante pointed out that state education officials haven’t yet mandated high school reopening; “We are thrilled to be ahead of schedule.”
The principal said administrators and teachers have been planning toward reopening since January. “They have been thinking about which concepts to track, which to expand.” The physical changes needed will be carried out next week, April vacation week, she said.
BHS graduation is planned for Armand Sabourin Field on Thursday, June 4, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Galante said seniors had requested graduation “under the lights.” The rain date is June 5. The last day of school for seniors is May 21 and for underclassmen June 16.
One of the significant changes is from six feet to three feet of classroom distancing, as allowed by the state education department. The virus, Galante said, “is not being spread in school with students wearing masks. Some of you not comfortable with that chose the remote option.”
All other protocols—masks, hand sanitation, ventilation –remain in effect. Lockers are still off-limits and some corridors will be one-way. Water fountains are disabled (bottled water is available from the office if requested.) Some bathroom stalls are shut down to promote distancing. Dismissal is staggered to ease crowding.
Separation remains at six feet during lunch, necessitating an additional eating period—not only in the cafeterias but also in classrooms, the large-group instruction room, and the auditorium, as well as outdoors. “We have been very meticulous that every single space where students eat lunch is safe,” Hudder said.
Casey said that, in accord with state policies, two students can sit together on a school bus, with windows open. Students can’t be “wandering through the building” because of the potential need for contact tracing, he explained.
“We aren’t going to have to shift many classrooms. Schedules won’t change at all, and no teachers are changing,” Casey reported. Since there cannot be unstructured time—to ensure contact tracing—breaks will be built into the end of almost every class, Hudder said.
Galante detailed the advisory program, in which groups of 14-16 students from mixed grades meet with a teacher or other adult twice a week. “We have incorporated it into our schedule. Students and teachers really had a sense of urgency. We need unstructured time to meet with an adult and some downtime. They felt really disconnected after [being] fully remote last year.”
Training for the advisory program was funded by the Bedford Educational Foundation, she added.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763