Ukiah Unified School District

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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk Blog: The presence of our students is a gift

Nearly a year ago, our students left Ukiah High School and started learning remotely.  A bulletin board near the front of the school remains intact with events for February and March.  2020.  Earlier this year, I asked the student caretakers of the board to replace the content.  They were agreeable, and then they let the memorial stand.  It’s a small, powerful reminder of this year.  No words can begin to express how much our students have missed.  Nor can we express how much they are missed on campus, individually and collectively.  Their absence has etched a sense of sadness in each day. The reflection of this time will forever be blurred with misty eyes that occasionally glimmer with hope.

One of the events on the bulletin board was for an upcoming talent contest.  Ukiah High School is overwhelmed with talent - musicians, singers, artists, comedians, athletes, scholars, welders, farmers, humanitarians, and so much more.  In reality, in a regular school year, the genius is offered at so many memorable events that the talent show was really not a significant event.  It was fun and sometimes inspiring.  But it wasn’t the winter concert, a Mock Trial championship, a polished drama production, or a hard-fought playoff game.  This year, I’d welcome the February 28th Talent Show with an endless smile.  Having missed a year’s worth of events, large and small, I’ve not lost sight of what I’ve always known as an educator: the presence of our students is a gift.

It turns out in a pandemic, victories are measured on a much smaller scale.  These days, as I look beyond the office window, the afternoon brings joyful students on campus for athletic practices.  Nearly all teams can practice, and a few are cleared for competition.  The athletes arrive, striving toward the track in the youthful exuberance that brings life to the campus.  For the next hour or two, they walk, jog, and sprint. The motion is mesmerizing.  Their energy envelopes the surrounding campus.  This vision is a long way from a year ago when a track practice went less than unnoticed.  Today, it is the sliver of hope that creates a quiet smile.

We’ve been hosting students for after school practices and club activities all year, hosting more than 200 a day at the peak.  The present moment feels different.  Spring is near.  Vaccinations have found their way to teachers and staff.  The latest surge appears to be subsiding.  The window of opportunity is upon us.  We know these conditions will allow us to expand school athletic and extracurricular activities on campus.  Our goal is to double the number of students we host on campus each day.  The single most significant concern we have for our students is their social-emotional health.  Bringing them back to campus is imperative.  While a logistical feat, this after school effort is neither complex nor difficult.

On the other hand, the plan for the school day is complex and difficult.  In the end, students will return to campus.  Getting to that point is the tricky part.  With more than 1600 students and 85 teachers, our school schedule has a lot of moving parts.  While many students will desire to return to campus, a portion will remain on remote learning.  We will need to continue to deliver the curriculum. Our plan must work around other district schools, transportation guidelines, and food considerations.  Most looming is the ever-changing virus linked to equally fluid responses and rules.  In response, we’ve developed dozens of schedules to bring students back to campus.  Consistently, our planning attends to providing curriculum and optimizing an on-campus experience that tends to the social-emotional needs of students.  None of these schedules can be activated until we are in the red tier and meet other health department criteria.  There is no anticipated date of when we will be in the red zone.

Whenever we speak of the latest plan, at this point, it should go without saying - subject to change.  This is a fluid environment.  Conditions, guidelines, and responses will change.  The plan may change.  What will not change is our continued commitment to develop the best plan for the next scenario.  And then adjust and do it again.  Unchanged is our commitment to welcome students back to Ukiah High School at the earliest possible date.  Undaunted is our sense of hope in a pandemic that only allows for small, incremental victories:  from track practice to afternoon learning experiences and forward until we all return to our Ukiah High School home.