Phase 1 of reopening BVH on-campus learning to begin Nov. 5


Madison Geering

A marked off path at the BVH textbook drop-off.

Phase 1 of reopening on-campus learning at Bonita Vista High (BVH) is set to commence on Nov. 5, when small groups of struggling students will be optionally welcomed back to campus for small group learning a few times per week. The Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) and the Sweetwater Education Association (SEA) have negotiated this plan over the past few weeks, preparing safety protocols, clarifying student qualifications and recruiting teacher volunteers.

“Bonita has a plan. I have worked with my team to come up with possible groups that we can bring back as a way of giving some in-person support to students,” BVH Principal Roman Del Rosario, Ed.D., said.

These small groups, or “cohorts,” are defined in the SUHSD Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the SEA as “unique group[s] of staff and students consistently working together through the provision of support. A cohort is no more than 16 people (including teachers), with a maximum of 14 students.” The cohorts will meet for one to two hours at a time, for varying days of the week, with a consent form signed by their parents.

Conversely, the MOU specified that “one-to-one/individual services” will be provided to those who need it, which could include “occupational therapy services, speech and language services, and other medical, behavioral services, or educational support services.” Students on campus for small group services will be provided with lunch from BVH Nutritional Services.

In order to support the practice of social distancing, most small group services will take place outdoors, with educators and students separated by a minimum of six feet. All staff and students on campus any given day will also be subject to a health screening. Hand washing stations will be made available and all areas used in the sessions will be sanitized before and after use, and face coverings will be required. The school nurse will oversee the implementation of these health protocols.

“You can take steps to mitigate learning loss, but you can’t mitigate death,” Del Rosario said. “That’s something that we have to keep front and center as we go through this process.”

While BVH is reopening its campus to these small groups of students, less that 10 percent of students will be selected to return. These students will be those identified by BVH administration and counselors to be chronically absent, having severe technological issues, being new to the United States as an English Language Development (ELD) student or being a part of the Special Education program.

“Our school psychologist was one of the first psychologists that piloted how an [initial education] assessment could be done one-on-one, and still maintain protocols for safety,” Del Rosario said. “She was one of very few psychologists that participated in that pilot, which was the first thing that the district did to bring back students for Special Education.”

Meanwhile, if a student has the grades C and above, has been participating and has not indicated a significant struggle with distance learning, they will not be prioritized for on-campus learning during this phase. 

“[The Phase 1 cohorts] are specifically geared towards what we call ‘learning loss mitigation,’” Del Rosario said. “The students involved in this stage show various indicators that they need extra help, so that’s where our focus is.”

The small groups will be led by teachers who volunteer extra hours afterschool or on the weekends of paid work to provide students with additional educational support. Del Rosario has established that BVH has about 15 volunteers for this program so far. These teachers will receive additional pay for working with cohorts. 

The offer has even been extended to Reduction In Force teachers, or teachers who were recently laid off by SUHSD. They will be offered district positions leading the small groups in order of seniority.

“We are trying to get as much input as possible,” Del Rosario said. “[We are] asking as many questions as we need to and then just keeping faith that we’re going to pull the staff together and operate under the best interests of our students.”

While SUHSD takes another step toward returning to on-campus learning, it is clear that the district is a long way from a complete restoration of normalcy. SUHSD has given no further indication on whether we will increase in-person learning at the start of the second semester. On Nov. 30, SUHSD plans to announce this decision. 

“There are a lot of uncertainties [right now],” Del Rosario said. “This is my eleventh year as a principal. You can get used to seeing everything, and having a plan for everything, but now we’re in this pandemic, and so many things are new.”