Pomolita Middle School has capitalized on state guidance, allowing counties to offer in-person activities to small groups of students. Pomolita has three in-person volleyball pods, one each for sixth, seventh and eighth-grade girls. Additionally, the middle school has in-person groups participating in socially distanced Science Olympiad activities, MESA, Robotics, and a Newcomers Group, which provides opportunities for English Learners to practice speaking English and social interaction with peers.
“We feel really good about the after-school programs happening at Pomolita. My favorite comments come from a number of teachers teaching from their classrooms. They love the voices of the kids again on campus,” said Bryan Barrett, Pomolita Principal. “The voices are coming from the 60 young students we have as they arrive at noon and spend all afternoon at Pomolita. This is a City of Ukiah run program to help our community. It has been great working with Jake Burgess from the city, who has a "let's do it" attitude to help our Ukiah families. Schools without kids are just office buildings. We need kids at school because they are the heart of a school. They are having great fun, and parents love the chance to have their kids doing something active outside. There is a lot of fun and laughter and responsible interaction with students.”
Ukiah High School Senior Sydney Binkley had great things to say about the in-person volleyball group she has been involved in, ”We are very happy to be back playing again! Most of us haven’t seen each other since March, so being able to reunite and play volleyball again is amazing. These girls are like my second family, and considering this is my senior year of high school; I am very happy to be back with them. Although we are required to wear our masks while playing, I still feel this will be beneficial for our team to get some practice in.. We are also sanitizing the volleyballs frequently for precaution. I am hoping we are able to have some sort of season, but being unable to see the future, I am very grateful for the time we have right now to play.”
Ukiah High School Athletic Director Stephen Summers said, “I am really excited about the after-school programs that are happening at Ukiah High School. These kids need to be physically active, and they want to be social. This is far from our "normal," but it is what we have right now. It has been rejuvenating to see kids in person again. I miss it. Besides the physical benefits, the after-school programs are helping with the kids’ social-emotional well-being, a sense of comradery, and working hard for a common goal can be powerful. The kids are doing great at following the protocols put in place by the County Health Order. They want sports to start again, so they are making sure they do what it takes to make that happen. Seeing the Freshman on their first day has probably been the most enjoyable experience so far. For some of them, it is their first real contact at Ukiah High School, similar to the first day of school, in an untraditional kind of way. Another exciting part of this is seeing a few of our former Student-Athletes come back to run a pod. Both Vicky Ruiz and Kirstin Johnson are past Blanket Award recipients, and it has been fun seeing them come full circle, giving back to the community and school.”
The Ukiah Unified partnership with the City of Ukiah started on October 19th and offers two free after school programs for any Ukiah Unified student ages 5 - 12. Both programs filled up within a few days after they were announced. At Pomolita Middle School, students have designated reading times and distance learning support while also exercising and taking part in arts & crafts, activities, and games. The other program offers exercise, arts & crafts, activities, and games at Yokayo Elementary School, and free food is provided every day at both programs. Mandatory temperature readings are required for all campers and staff. All counselors wear face coverings while campers under 12 are not required. Temperature checks at drop off, social distancing amongst pods, and regular hand washing are all mandatory.
“We understand the struggles students and families face with Distance Learning via computer. Getting together to play, even with masks, is such a positive break from the isolation many students feel,” said Anne Molgaard, UUSD Board Chair.
City of Ukiah Recreation Supervisor Jake Burgess is excited about the positive effects the in-person activities will have on kids. He recently commented, “We are happy to partner with UUSD to offer these after school programs to the youth of our community. These programs provide vital opportunities to get exercise, meet friends, and socialize. We hear from kids in our programs continually that camp is the best part of their day, and they look forward to it all morning. Depression and obesity are two of the most dangerous issues facing kids at the moment, and these programs are a perfect way to combat those ills through exercise, fun, and friends.”
“The after-school program has been a huge blessing to our family,” said parent Joni Wellington. “We have four children (ages 5-10) attending, and they have each loved their time spent there. The program gives the kids an opportunity to get out of the house after sitting at home on computers for hours in the mornings. Now their afternoons are filled with exercise, laughter, friendship, and even help with their homework, which makes our family time in the evening more enjoyable too! Thank you to the City of Ukiah and UUSD for providing this program for our children and continuing to find ways to keep them healthy and active while we are on distance learning!”
Just like the City program, the Ukiah Unified partnership with SPACE is extremely popular. 73 Ukiah Unified students enrolled in free November classes, and there is another 3-week session planned at SPACE for December, where even more students are expected to enroll.
SPACE Co-Founder Laurel Near commented, “The funding from UUSD for in-person classes (ages 7-18) has been received with enthusiastic appreciation by parents and guardians. This funding opportunity comes at the perfect time when finances are stretched for many families, some who have greatly reduced income, and some who have lost their jobs.”
Most SPACE classes are outside, with one drama class inside the main auditorium. Upon arrival, students have their temperatures taken by staff with a no-touch thermometer, and all students and staff wear masks while on campus. SPACE staff shoot short video interviews with parents about their experience and here are some of the candid responses:
One dad shared this about his daughter, "It is really special that SPACE provides a space for kids to be free and feel spirit--especially during this time when things are so confusing-- it's a place to call home. She is 7 and getting a lot braver and it's really special to see her take charge of that part of her life. I love that this is being offered to our kids, even in a pandemic."
Another thankful parent said, "It's been the best creative outlet for them especially during these times when they are learning on Zoom and they are in front of a computer screen all day--to be able to see other children and physically be there is really amazing. This is the only time they are interacting with anybody, outside of seeing friends online. I think the outdoor classes at SPACE are very safe, the social distancing is amazing and we feel very comfortable."
A mother of a teenager said, "This has been significant in the positive mental health of my child and other teens who have participated in the 4-week class."
According to state guidelines, local educational agencies in counties like Mendocino which are on the state’s COVID-19 Tier 3 or 4 lists can offer in-person, targeted, specialized support and services to small groups of students. The guidance allows stable cohorts of no more than 14 students to stay together, with no more than 2 supervising adults in a structured environment. The group size needs to be planned to ensure 6 feet of physical distancing. While cohorts never mix, schools can have multiple cohorts of students who participate only on certain days or certain times during the day. Proper cleaning must be done between different cohorts of students occupying the same space. A student may only participate in one Extracurricular Activity Unit in this type of stable cohort during any four-week period.
Pomolita Middle School Counselor Heath McNerney believes that schools are not quiet, and he wants the kids back! “For a lot of kids, school is “the happy place.” And they’re missing it,” he said. “So, we gotta’ do whatever we can to give them that happy place, and I think these pods are helping us give kids a happy, safe place where they know they are going to be loved and supported and they can be themselves. There’s so much joy in just seeing each other; it’s huge.”
Photo Caption: SPACE's outdoor, socially distanced Street Dance 1 students and instructor Amanda Rosenberg Gutierrez on November 4, 2020.