Students at Socorro High School who drove to school or were dropped off have their temperature taken before they are allowed to enter the building.
Caitie Ihrig | El Defensor Chieftain

After being allowed back in February in two cohorts, students at Socorro High School were welcomed back on March 10 as one whole student body.

“(It was) absolutely awesome,” Socorro High School principal Robert Stephens said. “Wonderful to see the kids back and I heard some laughing going on and smiles on their faces so I’m really happy.”

The New Mexico Public Education Department announced on March 8 that school districts have until April 5 to be fully back in-person. Parents and guardians can decide if they want to keep their student(s) in remote learning or have them attend school in person.

Stephens said if a family decides to send their child(ren) for in-person that they stick with that decision for the rest of the school year. Due to being allowed to have full capacity at the school, students would not have to be put on a waiting list and can attend right away.

“I would like our families to stay with that process, that way teachers aren’t wondering where students are part of the week when they know they are supposed to be onsite,” he said.

To help families decide whether to have their student(s) attend in person, Stephens said he invites them to come to the high school to see the safety precautions that are in place.

To keep students safe, there are one-way markings in the hallway, plastic shields around each desk, a new HVAC system and individual desks in the cafeteria.

When students are eating in the cafeteria, they can turn their desk towards another student to socialize. Once they finish eating, a student must put their mask back on to throw away their trash and turn their desk back to how it was originally set up. Additional seating has been added on the patio for students to eat their lunch at when the weather gets nicer.

Besides the precautions that are already in place, Stephens has added more hand sanitizer stations in the hallways to accommodate more students being in the building at once. He is also making sure that any area a member of the public could have been in or near during an athletic event is “sanitized diligently” to keep the students and faculty safe. Those areas include the gym area,locker rooms and the school entrance. The rest of the school is also sanitized every day.

When both cohorts attended school together on March 10, Stephens said that things went very smoothly because they are currently around 40 percent of the student body attending classes in-person.

“We knew when the health department and governor’s office put out that we could be up to 50 percent, we knew we could accommodate up to 250 students in our school comfortably and remain safe with all of the protocols being met,” he said. “There hasn’t been a day yet where we have hit 250. We are doing very well overall. I would love to see more students come onsite.”

With already being set up to accommodate up to 250 students, Stephens said that nothing had to change or be added for both cohorts to attend school together.

According to Stephens, the only thing that was added was one classroom had a desk but no chair.

“We located a chair and we were able to house everybody for each section throughout the day for every classroom without making any changes,” he said.

During the first three days of having 200 students in the building, Stephens said that everything went great and he could see the difference it was making for both the students and the teachers.

Stephens said that during his staff meeting, he told the teachers how impressed he was with how they were able to teach both remotely and in-person at the same time along with checking in on both groups of students during class to make sure everyone was understanding the material.

“I have only heard wonderful things about having the students back in the classroom because they are able to engage just that much better,” he said. “There is a big difference between having students physically in your room compared to students who are not physically in your room, even though they are receiving the same education at the same time. I think for teachers it impacts them greatly and for students as well.”