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Schools return to in-person learning: How are they doing?

The halls of high schools are finally filled with the sounds of energetic students who are, yet again, adjusting to a new normal.

It has been one month since students across Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) returned to in-person learning. Campuses moved seamlessly from phases two and three of the RUSD In-Person Attendance Guide, attending in-person one and now two days per week. Assistant Superintendent Tim Walker said leadership is hopeful for more openness come fall semester, perhaps even for seniors’ spring graduation.

“We’re exploring moving into phase four,” Walker said. “We’re working very vigorously on making the determination if that can be achieved for the final run by the end of the year.”

Before the district looks ahead to a potential future, their team has tried to encourage students as they integrate back into a classroom for the first time in a year.

Darel Hansen, principal of Riverside Polytechnic High School (Poly), said when students returned to campus, staff was waiting for them with a party.

“The energy level was really great,” he said. “We had music playing, we wanted to see a celebration that we’ve made it through difficult times and that we’re better as a school.”

Then, the staff spent their first week focused on everyone’s social and emotional support, easing back into the routine of school. He said Poly teachers knew their students from the year of virtual learning, but they never truly met.

“They only had a picture of them, if they turned their camera on … How much do you get to know students through that?” Hansen said. “We took the week getting to know each other, but the most important thing was the students getting to know each other and making friends.”

Hansen said principals across the district implemented the same practice to create an atmosphere of interaction.

Steven Ybarra, principal at Arlington High School, said the excitement students bring to the school is irreplaceable without in-person socialization.

He added the challenge for Arlington teachers is that they still have to consistently adapt their content as they learn their classes’ needs.

“We realize that we’re not going to fix this in a month,” Ybarra said. “As we approach the end of the year, we need to work together and identify those areas we’re hitting on and focus on those areas.”

Hansen similarly applauded the teachers on his staff who assess how to bring high schoolers up to speed, adjust their curriculum and embrace technology.

“I think it’s the challenge that we want to do what we do best,” Hansen said. “They have tremendous pride in the content they teach.”

As for graduation in spring 2021, each administrator said the plans are in place for in-person ceremonies, but the permission to enact them rests with the state.

“I believe it’s what our community wants,” Ybarra said. “It’ll be here before we know it but we’re starting to make plans and waiting for the green light.”

Walker said the RUSD board will communicate with the community as soon as they have the final determination.

“We moved to orange tier,” he said. “It has little impact on the classroom but it does on facility capacity for activities and events.”