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New Campus, New Start


After more than a year of virtual learning, cohorts of JUSD students returned to campuses for In-person/Hybrid instruction this April.

“There’s so many different emotions,” said Chris Garcia, 6th grade teacher. “But I guess the biggest emotion is excitement.”

For those who attend West Riverside Elementary, the return was extra special because some campus renovations remained in progress when virtual learning began. School tours were an integral part of those first days back. 

Katherine Gomez holding a globe“[My students] were in awe,” shared Katherine Gomez, 2nd grade teacher. “They were super excited to see all of the new things. It was like the first day of school all over again.”

After the tour, Ms. Gomez spent the first day with her Blue Cohort teaching a lesson on the rainforest. Though she used her document camera to display the lesson, her students also had their own activity booklets to fill out - something that could not happen during virtual learning.

“The students that are here can actually touch the booklet, use their pencil and crayons. It’s tangible. It’s in their hands,” said Ms. Gomez. Though planning hands-on work after a year of virtual lessons was no easy feat, she enjoys having students back in the classroom. “This is what [teachers] love to do. We love to teach children and be present with them.”

Mrs. Helfand and her student "dab" to greet each otherThe return also gave West Riverside teachers the opportunity to stretch their creative muscles. In Gisele Helfand’s 1st grade class, arriving students pointed to fun bitmojis to determine what socially distanced greeting she would offer them - favorites being “the dab” and the “air hug.” 

“When I saw the schedules, I was worried,” admitted Mrs. Helfand. “Usually [1st graders] don’t do a good job with change. But they have been so flexible. It’s been wonderful.”

Meanwhile, students in Cheyna Madrid’s Harry Potter-themed 5th/6th grade combo class were seated according to their preferred Hogwarts House, and received first day instruction amidst “floating” candles and other iconography from the famous franchise. The welcoming environment eased nerves and strengthened comfort levels.

Harry Potter themed classroomStill, there are challenges to balancing in-person and virtual learning. The curriculum remains the same, but three different cohorts means three different sets of needs. Based on suggestions from her own students, Mrs. Madrid implemented a system to help keep all of her kids on track.

“I have my [in-person] students that are not here and the virtual students all log in from 9 to 11,” she explained. While one cohort receives in-person instruction, the other cohort and the virtual students work together on asynchronous assignments. Mrs. Madrid checks in on them to answer questions and make sure everyone is completing their work. “It shows unity. It shows stability in our classroom as well.”

​​Mr. Garcia's classFor Mr. Garcia, the new learning model is a work in progress, but he remains optimistic about the transition. Though he was surprised when most of his class said they were not yet returning for in-person instruction, he understands the uncertainty that many students feel about going back.​​

“As educators, we are constantly adjusting, and this year there’s been a lot of adjustment. But it’s okay,” he shared. “We focus on the positive, we focus on our students, and we try to figure out what we do, as best as possible, given the circumstances.”