An Inside Look at Arcadia Unified's Reopening Process
By AUSD Digital Communications Interns Claire Li and Kylie Ha
Arcadia Unified welcomed back elementary students to campuses on April 12, and parents and students were all smiles.
Photo Courtesy of Arcadia Unified School District Facebook
“It is very easy for us to shift to bringing students back to school as far as scheduling goes; the real challenge is how we do this safely,” said Arcadia High School Principal Angela Dillman on school reopening planning.
After weeks of completing surveys, Q&A sessions, and numerous meetings, the Arcadia Unified School District announced that Tuesday, April 20, would be the reopening date for in-person instruction opportunities for students who opt to come back to campus at Arcadia High School and the district’s middle schools. Arcadia Unified elementary schools, which include grades TK-5, reopened this week. The process to reopen schools and create instructional models, schedules, and more that follow the ever-evolving county and state health guidelines have required a great deal of behind-the-scenes preparation by administrators, teachers, and staff, and has taken into account feedback from students and families. Ultimately, and par for the course, Arcadia Unified’s reopening planning has been labor-intensive, with acute attention to detail when it comes to enhanced safety measures to ensure the health and welfare of all students and staff.
Arcadia Unified students and their families have been given the option to remain in distance learning or return to campuses for in-person instruction for the rest of the 2020-21 school year. In addition to typical school rules, those students opting for in-person learning will also be required to follow all requisite health and safety guidelines. These include wearing a mask that covers the nose and mouth at all times when indoors (except to take a sip of water), maintaining social distance, and following posted pathways, to name a few.
Students and staff are also expected to complete a daily mandatory health screening form, along with temperature checks at the beginning of each school day. Each classroom is equipped with a hand sanitizing station; windows and doors will be kept open for maximum air circulation; and all high-touch surfaces will be sanitized throughout the day. Student restrooms will also be cleaned regularly and have limited capacities to allow for social distancing as instructed by county guidelines. One of the biggest safety features Arcadia Unified has added has come by way of updating its heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, which now have improved filters and ionizers. The district has also stocked up on extra personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gloves, and face shields, which will be available at all schools.
With the addition of 45 new high-powered Electrostatic Disinfectant Sprayers, all Arcadia Unified schools and classrooms will be sprayed daily with a peroxide-based disinfectant that kills COVID-19.
Video Courtesy of Arcadia Unified Youtube
Extensive technology upgrades have also been implemented in each of Arcadia Unified’s 11 schools in preparation for the arrival of students. Within just nine days’ time and ahead of schedule, the district’s Technology and Information Services team upgraded 400 teacher workstations, while the Maintenance team installed 300 new access points to improve internet connection. All tech upgrades were completed prior to the first round of school reopenings on April 12. Per tweets from Arcadia Unified’s Chief Technology Officer Scott Bramley, personnel from across the district chipped in to make this expedited and rigorous upgrade timeline possible.
A look at Arcadia Unified's new classroom tech upgrades.
Video Courtesy of Arcadia Unified Youtube
Apart from health and technology considerations, another major factor influencing Arcadia Unified’s reopening timeline is the values the district aims to uphold.
“Personalized attention,” as shared by Dillman, has been one of the key goals for Arcadia Unified. Rather than returning to school and staying in one classroom without face-to-face interactions with their instructors, Dillman stressed, “Our students coming back to school means they get to go to all of their classes and see all their teachers.”
When asked about why talk of school reopening started after a shift from LA County’s purple tier status to the lesser restrictive red tier, Dillman said, “In Arcadia, we knew that for us to educate students the way we want to and need to, the [County health and safety] rules needed to change, so we waited for those red tier rules to come out before we really started planning.”
Dillman acknowledged that a downside to waiting for LA County to reach the red tier to plan meant, “There were a lot of things to think about in a shorter amount of time.”
It did, however, give Arcadia High the ability to “make a plan that allows the flexibility that students and teachers want and need” due to the decreased restrictions afforded by the red tier and the ever-evolving health guidance and guidelines.
Aiming to seek feedback from students, staff, and parents to help inform decisions regarding school reopenings, Arcadia Unified conducted several online ThoughtExchanges. Throughout the school year, the district used the questionnaires to access student and family opinions on school reopenings and answer questions, such as how Arcadia Unified could improve.
Aside from hosting online ThoughtExchanges, each school in Arcadia Unified utilized either a School Site Leadership Team (SSLT) or a School Site Council (SSC)—teams comprised of school administrators, parents, students, and classified staff, such as nurses or secretaries. The SSLTs and SSCs focused their sights on reopening discussion and planning, working collaboratively to ensure safety, efficiency, and effectiveness. These teams have existed pre-pandemic and also assisted with planning for the distance learning start to the 2020-21 school year. With representatives from different parts of their school’s community, the teams aim to offer a balanced cross-section of perspectives to help make sound decisions that are best for their respective school site.
At Arcadia High, the SSLT was responsible for helping create the current bell schedule, establishing a block schedule and later start and earlier release times to reduce screen time for students and teachers. Since the schedule was originally designed so Arcadia High could easily adapt to hybrid learning if the opportunity presented itself, the majority of the SSLT’s efforts are now concentrated on ensuring the health and safety of students and providing a sound learning environment for students, regardless of if they continue learning at home or at school.
To ensure safety in class, teachers will have the option of using plexiglass barriers and dividers, sanitizing stations, social distancing, and more, which will vary from class to class based on the number of students in each classroom and the availability of requested materials. Additionally, planning for in-person learning did not stop with coordinating the number of students in classrooms and PPE materials. For example, among other considerations and adjustments, Arcadia High had to rewrite its fire drill plans based on the number of students in each classroom during each period.
As such, Dillman emphasized that student safety remains Arcadia High’s top priority, sharing that it is important for Arcadia High’s administration team and teachers to know where students are and where they are supposed to be. Accordingly, Arcadia High students had to decide to come back for in-person learning or remain in distance learning and could not come to campus for some classes and learn online for others
The reopening process has not only affected students but has also had an impact on teachers who now have to teach online and in-person classes simultaneously.
As the Arcadia Unified School District welcomes students back for in-person instruction, teachers have a new responsibility to simultaneously teach a class of online and in-person students.
Photo Courtesy of Arcadia Unified School District Facebook
“There have definitely been more meetings,” noted Peter Vo, Arcadia High AP Biology and AP Environmental Science teacher. “I know some teachers are a little bit more stressed than others, and the school administration has been doing really well about trying to communicate all of the information as much as possible.”
Although the year has been difficult, Vo admitted it has helped him think more deeply about his goal in teaching.
“It has made me really emphasize the fact that whether it's in person or whether it's online, the most important thing for me as a teacher is the relationship that you can build with students.”
Students returning to Arcadia High for in-person learning will follow the same class schedule, keep their current teachers, and attend school only on block days, which are Tuesday through Friday. On top of the following, each student will attend their classes in one classroom and will continue to log into their “virtual” classes if instructed to do so by their teachers. Depending on the teacher and class, in-person learning may remain the same as virtual learning, as teachers will concurrently teach both in-person and online students; however, teachers will decide the format of in-person instruction guided by what is most effective for their students to learn. To ensure the smoothest transition possible, teachers have also been receiving training to support all students. Arcadia High’s preparation for the return to in-person learning has also been mirrored by the middle and elementary schools across the district.
Middle schools will have a similar schedule to Arcadia High: Mondays will be online learning days, while Tuesdays through Fridays will welcome the approximately 38% of students who chose to resume in-person schooling. During in-person learning days, students will attend school from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
An Arcadia Unified parent, Melissa, shares her son’s experience returning to school for the first time as a kindergartener with KPCC.
Interview clip courtesy of Arcadia Unified Youtube and KPCC.
Elementary schools will have in-person learners on campus Monday through Friday for approximately four hours each day. To accommodate for the high number of elementary students that are returning to campus, classes will be staggered, with school start times beginning at 8:10 a.m. through 8:45 a.m. Like Arcadia High, extra PPE, furniture, hand sanitizing stations, temperature checks, and the mandatory health screening form will be utilized.
Each elementary school has also updated its procedures to follow the LA County health and safety guidelines. According to Highland Oaks Elementary School Principal Patti Mattera, this has included “working on recess schedules, hiring more proctors, and changing dismissal and arrival procedures.”
Elementary school students recently returned to in-person instruction at a limited capacity with all students and staff required to follow Covid-19 guidelines, including social distancing and mask-wearing.
Photo Courtesy of AUSD Facebook
In the case of an outbreak, all elementary schools have an isolation tent set up for student(s) who exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19, and contact tracing will immediately take place within their classes should a student test positive for COVID-19. As for recess, different grade levels will not intermingle and the playground will be split into four different sections, with each class remaining in one area. Though a lunch break is not provided, students will have a snack break where they can sit outside socially distanced and eat. Student restrooms will also be functioning on a limited capacity at roughly two students per restroom. To help facilitate this, each student will receive a magnet with their name, and as they go to the restroom, they’ll be able to place their magnet outside of the door. If there are already two magnets present on the door, the incoming student will have to wait until another student comes out.
As students and teachers transition to the new hybrid learning environment, Mattera affirmed, “Patience is the key on both sides for [administration] and families.”
Further reflecting on the school reopenings, Dillman shared, “We just have to keep supporting each other and being kind, knowing that things aren't going to work perfectly, but if we can remember how important it is to get back to normal, then we'll all be moving in the right direction.”
For more information about Arcadia Unified’s return to in-person instruction, visit bit.ly/ArcadiaUnifiedReopeningRoadmap, and for more information about Arcadia Unified’s COVID-19 updates, visit bit.ly/ArcadiaUnifiedCOVIDUpdates.
For more on this story and the voices of those featured in this article, click "play" on the Keepin' It Arcadia, podcast episode above.
Podcast by Arcadia Unified's Digital Communication Internship Interns