Whitehall junior-senior high school principal Ethan Burgess put it best in his letter posted on the school’s website last Friday.
“It’s been a long time coming but we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he wrote.
The high school that has been forced to remain closed for the entirety of the 2020/2021 school year up to this point is gearing up to reopen its doors to cohorts of students.
Burgess said the dates are still tentative but he hopes to have seventh and eighth grade cohorts return around March 1, with hopes to bring back all of the middle school students at that time as well.
By mid-March, Burgess said, he hopes to have his high schoolers back in the halls.
At the Whitehall Board of Education meeting on Monday he laid out the plan for the board, which he said will take place in two phases.
Phase one will involve the seventh and eighth graders, who will be brought back for in-person instruction for all five days of the week. Burgess said they will participate in normal instruction from their respective teachers.
“The reason behind bringing the middle school in really centers around students really advocating for their workload and their time management,” he said to the board. “They’re a little younger and have difficulty doing that.”
Burgess addressed the potential concern of how you bring all of the middle schoolers back at once. He said that each core teacher will be assigned two classrooms. This means that a teacher will be teaching to students in one classroom while simultaneously broadcasting the lesson the same way you would for the hybrid learning experience.
Only the other set of students will be in a classroom across the hall.
“Anytime that Mrs. Checkla, and I’m just using her as an example, needs access to her students she can simply walk across the hallway and gain access to those students,” Burgess said.
There are five core teachers and 10 classrooms in the middle school.
Schools are only allowed to place 12 students max in a classroom at this moment due to COVID-19. For classrooms where there are more than 12 students Burgess said they will be divvied up.
“Any classroom over 12 will be divvied up between the auditorium, the cafeteria and the library,” he said.
Burgess informed the board that the furniture normally situated in the library has been removed and two temporary classrooms have been built in the space. And while they don’t have access to the stage or pit within the auditorium, he said that just having the seats available in that space is a huge plus.
“While our conditions aren’t great for maybe holding a P.E. class, at least our students can gather in that area,” he said.
Burgess told the board that shortly after that, the high school will be opening as well, and he couldn’t believe that he was able to say that.
While he doesn’t have a date set in stone at the moment, he said that March 15 is the earliest that they will be able to begin bringing cohorts of high school students back. But those students won’t be able to attend school every single day like the middle schoolers.
“Our high school students right now are going to have to be placed into the maroon and white scheduling,” Burgess said, “mainly because we do not have enough classrooms to house all of our students.”
The high school has more than 60 students enrolled in earth science on any given day and more than 50 taking living environment on any given day.
“Just like the elementary school while the maroon team is in school learning the white team will be at home learning,” Burgess said.
School superintendent Pat Dee said that while this is how they will begin bringing students back, the ultimate goal is to have all of the high schoolers back in the building at the same time.
That will be able to happen as COVID-19 guidelines are rolled back.
“Our hope is that the Governor continues to relax some of these guidelines,” Dee said. “There’s discussion that some of the social distancing guidelines are going to start getting a little bit more relaxed. If that happens we can get more of our ninth through 12th grade students in than just the maroon and white.”
A bonus to executing the maroon and white scheduling is the fact that they will be able to bring all of the middle school and high school students to school who need to take the bus. Burgess said that thanks to parents driving their kids to school and high schoolers driving themselves, this will be possible.
Burgess noted that when the high school opens, students will be participating in traditional, authentic instruction.
“You will have a teacher in the classroom teaching content as they would in a normal scenario,” he said. “I know many students feel that they’re just going to come into what we call the WIFI room. That’s not the case.”
Burgess told the board that the aim is to run the school as normal as possible.
The Whitehall junior-senior high school has been closed for the duration of the school year due to damages suffered from the storms and flooding that took place on Aug. 24. Burgess said that there were some letters sent home about the announcement last Friday when he posted the announcement on the school’s website.
“I guess tonight is the official statement,” he said to the board. “March 1 our middle school kids are coming back to us and mid-March our high school kids are coming back to us.”