Students’ energy picking up after return to Bret Harte

By Lauren Gothard and Lindsey Sin

Welcome back! Bret Harte Elementary School reopened its doors April 8 for hybrid learning. After more than a year of distance learning, students and teachers returned to the classroom. Teachers have been instructing some students in-person and others virtually, four days a week.

The response from students and families has been overwhelmingly positive. “It seems to be going well, with about half of our students back for inperson learning,” said Principal James Tucker. Prior to May 18 each classroom was divided into two cohorts: Students attend Tuesdays and Wednesdays or Thursdays and Fridays, for three hours per day. But with the additional relaxation of COVID restrictions, all classrooms, except the fifth grade, can now attend together four days a week, as one cohort. The last day of the school year will be June 17.

While not a complete return to pre-COVID instruction, kids are still enjoying outdoor play and interactions with friends and classmates they had seen very little of during the previous 13 months. For some children, April was the first time they’d ever met their teacher in person, rather than through a computer screen.

“The kids were low-energy when they came back, but over the last month, their engagement has really increased,” Tucker said.

It took time for the kids to re-establish normal rhythms and peer camaraderie, but after a month in the classroom, Tucker can see the change.

Sacramento City Unified School District established protocols for learning prior to the students’ return to campus. Accordingly, students are greeted each morning by the principal and a health aide, a position created by the district as part of its Return Together: 2020-2021 School Plan.

“We have a socially distanced health screening in front of the school in the morning,” Tucker said. “I check names on my cohort list and ask health-related screening questions. Students sanitize their hands, get their temperatures taken, and the health aide inspects their physical appearance.” The average screening takes less than five minutes and the students seem at ease with the process. First grader Maxwell Sin said, “I don’t mind having my temperature taken. It’s pretty easy.”

Once students complete the health screening inside the cafeteria, they head to the blacktop and wait for their teacher to take them to the classroom.

The after-school program Target Excellence also returned to Bret Harte in April, extending the day on campus from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Target Excellence staff provides lunch, help with homework, outdoor games and social-emotional learning activities. Director Rochelle Nazareno believes her staff and students are adjusting well to returning to campus, despite how different the program looks due to COVID.

“It’s going really well and we are doing the best we can with what we have,” said Nazareno, whose program is serving about 80 students a week in person. “We are glad we reopened.”

Bret Harte attendance clerk Sonia Carrillo also has children in third and sixth grades at the school. She said the transition from full-time distance learning to hybrid learning has gone well for her family. “At first I was afraid to send my children back, but I know it is better for my kids,” she said. As a staff member, Carrillo feels safe at work, due to the protocols and safety precautions in place. Since returning to campus, Carrillo’s initial fear for her kids has changed. “There really is nothing to be afraid of; let your kids come back. It’s going to be good for them,” she said. The big question for families and teachers is what learning will look like in the fall. The city school board adopted a resolution April 22 supporting a full return to in-person instruction.

Whatever happens in fall, Bret Harte is well prepared to welcome students to the new school year in one form or another. For now, everyone’s just happy to be back together.

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