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Healdsburg welcomes high school and junior high students back to campus

Healdsburg High School students were met Monday with elated greetings from school staff and no-touch temperature checks as part of their welcome back to campus after a nearly 13-month absence.

“I’m so happy,” said Greg Steele, campus supervisor, who was taking temperatures and handing out wristbands and lanyards at the school’s main entrance around 8:20 a.m. “This is why we do this job, because of the kids.”

Slightly fewer than 190 students returned to the Healdsburg High campus Monday morning in the first of two cohorts that will each attend two days a week. They, along with students who returned to Healdsburg Junior High School on the same day, are some of the first secondary students in Sonoma County public schools to recommence in-person instruction after more than a year away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students and staff members rejoiced in once again sharing the same physical space for learning, though pervasive safeguards were in place inside and outside of classrooms to guard against transmission of the virus.

Teacher Wesley Hunt's screen informs both her in-class and distance-learning students what they'll be doing in their agriculture chemistry class at Healdsburg High School on Monday, April 5, 2021.  (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
Teacher Wesley Hunt's screen informs both her in-class and distance-learning students what they'll be doing in their agriculture chemistry class at Healdsburg High School on Monday, April 5, 2021. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

In Wesley Hunt’s ag science classroom, six students were seated far apart during first period, where they were answering a writing prompt with ’80s tunes playing in the background. Up on screen in front of the group, another four classmates were visible — those who had opted to stay home either for the day or the rest of the year. While hybrid instruction remains the norm, Hunt will teach both groups at the same time.

Principal Bill Halliday said the school leadership thought it made the most sense to adjust the in-person setting to continue to accommodate students who aren’t returning for one reason or another. One alternative embraced by other districts is reassigning students and teachers who stick with distance learning to new digital-only classrooms.

“They have been working together the whole year,” Halliday said. “And this way, say there’s a day you can’t come to school because you’re sick. You can stay home and still log in.”

In the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) building, Drew Kempiak briefed his students both at home and in the classroom on how this dual-platform teaching endeavor would work. He encouraged students learning from home to speak up if they needed help, and reminded those seated in the room that he could now see whether or not they were taking notes during the lesson.

“That’s 10% of your grade, remember,” he said as he began the day’s material on stoichiometry.

For heavily hands-on classes, such as culinary arts and digital arts, the return makes for a more dramatic shift in lesson planning.

Teacher John Chevalier, left, talks to Domenica Baerwald during the digital filmmaking class at Healdsburg High School on Monday, April 5, 2021.  The blue tape on the carpet is a reminder for Chevalier to keep socially distanced from the students.  (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
Teacher John Chevalier, left, talks to Domenica Baerwald during the digital filmmaking class at Healdsburg High School on Monday, April 5, 2021. The blue tape on the carpet is a reminder for Chevalier to keep socially distanced from the students. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

John Chevalier, audio and visual production instructor, is excited to get his students, now that they’re in the classroom, back outside of it as much as possible — equipped with a camera and all the proper framing, lighting and other storytelling skills they will need to complete their final projects for the year.

He described the dual-mode teaching as “15 kinds of weird,” but he knows it will take time to adjust. For Monday’s first-period class, in which senior Domenica Baerwald and freshman Natali Gonzalez were the only two seated in the room, he focused on checking in about their thoughts and feelings about their first day back.

“It’s weird,” Gonzalez said, adding that she worried about getting lost on a campus in which she has spent so little time before. Still, she said, “I’m happy that we’re back, even if it’s only two days a week.”

Students adhere to the arrows directing the flow of traffic in the hallways at Healdsburg High School on Monday, April 5, 2021.  (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
Students adhere to the arrows directing the flow of traffic in the hallways at Healdsburg High School on Monday, April 5, 2021. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Reminders of the ever-present risks presented by the coronavirus were nearly everywhere on campus. Tape divided the hallways into two-way traffic patterns, to keep students who would normally be mingling apart. Lockers remain unassigned, to avoid any congregating. Students are asked to wipe down their seats and desks when they leave. And hugs are prohibited — none for the teachers or the students.

Still, the change of scenery was enough to inject palpable enthusiasm into the heavily regulated return to campus.

Madison Foppiano, a senior, found herself feeling right at home. Sitting at her desk during AP English, she said she forgot she was even wearing a mask.

“It feels really good (to be back),” the senior said, adding that her friend convinced her to return after she was skeptical that it would be worth it for the remaining several weeks of the year. Her excitement for graduation has only grown after seeing so many of her senior classmates return for their final weeks together.

“Now that I’m actually here, this feels so right,” Foppiano said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or kaylee.tornay@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.

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