Resumption of hybrid classes after the extended holiday break hasn’t been a simple matter for the faculty and staff of Magdalena Schools. Principal Leslie Clark, in her report to the school board on Jan. 18, indicated that they are still at the mercy of the New Mexico Public Education Department.

“All the students are still on remote learning,” she told The Chieftain in an interview last week. “However, we are bringing in (academically) high-risk students in small numbers. So students are coming into the building and they’re receiving one-on-one support. But for the most part, the majority of students are remote, either the Google Classroom or the computer-based program Edgenuity.”

Clark said although both delivery methods are working, Google Classroom seems to be the preferred platform. Google Classroom is a free web service developed for schools designed to simplify creating, distributing, and grading assignments, and streamlining the process of sharing files between teachers and students.

“Google Classroom is where an online teacher is there live to support the students,” she said.

“Edgenuity, on the other hand, is all device-based and does not require a teacher to monitor it daily. It’s in use for grades 6-12.”

De’Ann Kiehne gives a lesson over Zoom. Photo courtesy Leslie Clark.

Clark said with Edgenuity students were getting everything they needed for the course work, but proved to be formidable for many.

“It was very challenging for some,” she said. “We had about 70 students on it for semester 1, and we’re down to about 30 students now for semester 2. Some that were already struggling could not succeed that way and now they’re back on the Google Classroom.”

All students were provided devices at the first of the school year.

Clark said connectivity to the web is not yet 100 percent (hence the need for Edgenuity), “but it’s close. Keri James is working on getting internet for everybody.”

One critical factor that the school is addressing prior to a return to hybrid classes is COVID-19 related, pertaining to the circulation and filtering of the air in classrooms.

Specifically, free-standing room ventilators.

“We have to get our ventilator system put into the school,” she said. “They’re like an air purifier unit. There are, of course, some stipulations from the PED and the Department of Health about how many cubic feet of air it cleans and how fast.

“It only works for a 500 cubic foot room at one time, so we’re going to have to order two units for each classroom,” Clark said. “We still have to order those, but if they end up back-ordered it might affect how long it would take for us to get going.”

She said schools that have a newer air filtration system would only have to install a filter that’s activated by a switch.

“The older section of our schools – the middle and high school – doesn’t have that,” Clark said.  “So we’re figuring out how to manage the older portion of the building, which was built in the middle 1980s. And, really, not even all of it, just the majority of it. It’s going to be pretty difficult to get that organized but it’s going to happen.”

A survey sent out recently to families showed an even split between remote and in-person learning preferences.

“We got a lot of input and about 50 percent of the students and their families did not want to come back,” she said. “And the other 50 percent did want to come back. So that hasn’t changed. We’re at the same spot we were at before.

“At this point, many families are really exhausted trying to do the schooling at home,” she said.

Returning to hybrid will happen, Clark said, “Maybe sooner than we first expected.”

According Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s statement during her 2021 State of The State Address on Tuesday, classrooms may be filling up as early as a week from Monday.

“We will get this right, and we will move forward, and every school district in the state will be able to welcome all ages of students safely back to the classroom on February 8,” Lujan Grisham said.

Clark thinks there’s a good chance the ventilation/filtration system will be in place by then. “The units have been ordered and it appears we’ll be getting them on schedule,” she said. “We still have to keep family cohorts together, and we’ve got to keep student cohorts together. So we’re going to need those two weeks to get organized.”

Scheduling classes and teachers to maintain new cohort guidelines set by PED is no easy feat, and Clark gives an example.

“Say you’re a student in high school and you take accelerated classes. You go to a different set of classes,” Clark said. “But another student in high school might take more career type courses like auto tech and so forth. This means they are not going to be with the same group of kids all day long. They might be together for math but they’re not going to be together for every class.”

This complicates keeping a cohort of kids together for a full school day, but Clark believes a solution can be found.

“They are putting limitations on us that seem almost impossible to meet,” she added. “But as soon as they can tell us we can open up, we’re going to open up.”