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WC High School returns to full in-person classes

“We’re ready.”

That’s what Webster City High School Principal Dan Johnson said of the students returning to 100 percent in-person classes Monday, Jan. 25. That marks the first time since mid-March that all of the students will be in class together at the school.

The students finished out the last several weeks of the 2019-2020 school year virtually as the state locked down to stem the spread of COVID-19.

In August, the high school students returned to classes in a hybrid learning situation. The students were divided into two cohort groups and attended classes at the high school every other day. On the off days, students took part in remote learning.

At the Jan. 11 Webster City school board meeting, nearly two dozen parents submitted comments to the board, requesting that the district return to daily in-person classes. The parents said students were falling behind in classes and that it was difficult for working parents to monitor students on remote learning days.

After a lengthy discussion, the board voted to return to full, in-person classes, giving the high school staff two weeks to get ready for the transition.

Superintendent Dr. Mandy Ross told the Daily Freeman-Journal that there have been “many moving parts” over the past several months as schools looked at how they could best educate students.

“It really wasn’t as simple as making a little change here or there. Every time the governor had another mandate, we had to change how we were doing things,” she said. Ross credited the administrators and teachers for working through all the changes to find the best path forward for the district.

The same mitigation factors that have been in place since August, including mask wearing, social distancing and encouraging hand washing, will continue, according to Ross.

Maintaining social distancing was an important consideration. That means alternate spaces had to be located to accommodate classes of up to 30 students seated at least 3 feet apart.

“We’ve spent a few days getting prepped for 100 percent in person classes,” Johnson said. “We’ve got 17 of our 37 teachers moving to an alternate location.”

Several spaces at the high school have been repurposed as classrooms. The lobbies near the Prem Sahai Auditorium and near the competition gym have been set up for larger classes.

Trish Bahrenfuss, high school math instructor, is one of those teachers who will move to an alternate space. Her new classroom is in the north lobby. The six-foot tables will allow two students to sit the required three-feet apart.

She moved to the north lobby last fall for the first quarter. With the cohort groups meeting every other day, her largest class then was 16 students.

“My biggest section right now is 27 students,” she said.

“There will be teachers in the west lobby and also teachers in the PE gym,” Bahrenfuss said. “And three teachers will be going to Iowa Central.”

The physical education gym will accommodate two classes. However, the desks and chairs will have to be set up each day and be dismantled at the end of the day to allow for basketball practice after school, Johnson said.

Four classroom spaces were found at Iowa Central Community College in Webster City and buses will provide transportation for students to and from the campus. Currently, a bus already runs to Iowa Central each day, delivering high school students who take college classes. Johnson thought an additional bus might be added.

He said the district looked at other spaces in the community – churches and other buildings — but many of those locations still aren’t allowing outside groups to use the facilities.

Additional lunch periods have been added to allow for social distancing. The lunch service will spread out into the lobby space just inside the Lincoln statue entrance.

The transition to 100 percent in-person classes brought to a close the hybrid model that began in August

Teachers and administrators met all through the summer to develop the hybrid cohort 4×4 model.

“Each student had 44 days — 22 days in person and 22 days remote,” Bahrenfuss said. A quarter is 45 days but with the 4×4 model, the students had a semester’s worth of learning in the quarter.

One unique factor Bahrenfuss found when the students were working remotely was that students who might not usually speak up in a regular classroom setting, were much more likely to reach out with questions or comments through Google classroom or email.

Johnson said the students met in their cohort groups one final time on Thursday and Friday. The staff took that time to explain how the new learning model with alternate classroom space would work.

The return to 100 percent in-person classes means some of the kids may be seeing some classmates for the first time since March.

“Unless they are in sports together or were in the same cohort, they may be seeing kids that they haven’t seen all year,” Bahrenfuss said.

Johnson said perhaps the biggest challenge has been adapting to the changes in format.

“We just want to make sure that we’re doing what’s best for our students,” he said.

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