NAMPA — Amy Taylor’s first day teaching under a hybrid model resembled how many teachers would begin their first day of the fall semester.
Her fifth grade students at Lake Ridge Elementary School organized their school supplies, saw their classmates in-person for the first time and reviewed some expectations for the school year. All of this took place with masks on, about one month after Lake Ridge’s official first day of school Aug. 24, after the Nampa School District decided to switch to a hybrid model from fully online.
The Nampa School District started the transition to a hybrid model Sept. 9 after Southwest District Health determined Canyon County was at a lower risk level for spreading COVID-19. Prior to Sept. 9, Canyon County was at the highest risk level. Hybrid learning began Sept. 21.
The hybrid model split Taylor’s students into two groups. One group came to class Monday and Thursday, or A Days, while the second group came to class Tuesday and Friday, or B Days. On days when students didn’t attend class, they were given online assignments. Taylor spent a few minutes each day talking to her online students via Zoom, allowing both class groups to interact with each other.
Wednesdays are used as “intervention” days, where all students stay home and Taylor can work with them individually if they need help catching up.
South Middle School’s seventh grade life science teacher Kristiana Pierce said the hybrid model allows for faster paced learning than a fully online model. Through hybrid learning, students will be working on one lesson during class, while online students are covering a different part of the curriculum.
Taylor’s class has 23 students overall, with about 11 or 12 in class at once. She said 23 students is the smallest fifth grade class size she’s taught. Typically, her classes are about 32 students.
The Nampa School District’s overall enrollment is down nearly 600 students from last year. Taylor said some students enrolled in the Nampa School District’s online school, the Nampa Online Virtual Academy.
Taylor’s classroom had desks paired together and spread throughout the room. Each pair had one desk for a student coming to school on A Days and one for a student who comes to school on B Days, so only one student would be using the desk during class.
During the first two days of the week, Taylor instructed each class to measure the distance between their desks with yard sticks to make sure they were at least six feet apart from the other students. This was to both teach her students about social distancing and how to measure distances, she said.
“Our six feet apart right now is not really six feet apart,” Taylor told her class.
Even after measuring, some students remained less than six feet apart. During several lessons, students worked together, and would move even closer to each other, but always wore masks while doing so.
All students and staff wore masks inside the building. Taylor taught her students about why it was important they wear masks, and showed them the proper way to wear them. She allowed students a mask break for a few minutes each day, but only when all the students were at their desks and facing the same direction.
Lake Ridge students wore their masks without complaint, but several students’ masks fell below their noses, and others took their masks off entirely outside of mask breaks. Taylor tried to correct the students who were wearing masks incorrectly.
At the start of each day, Taylor said she checks all of her in-class students for COVID-19 symptoms. Lake Ridge principal Michelle Van Beek said teachers spent a week before the semester started and a separate day before hybrid learning began training on how to identify COVID-19 and how to keep students safe in the classroom.
Taylor is a mom to two students at Lake Ridge, in first grade and fifth grade. She said she is protective of her children, but knowing how much training her children’s teachers went through made her comfortable allowing them to return to school.
“I know my kids are going to get what they need this year,” Taylor said.
If Taylor identifies a student with COVID-19 symptoms, she is supposed to send them to the school nurse, who evaluates the student further. School nurses are responsible for recording and reporting suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases to the school district, Van Beek said.
District spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck said if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the district will send a letter to notify parents. She said the district plans to keep those who test positive anonymous.
“We do not have any plans to publish data about our cases beyond what is included in the school board reports,” Tuck said in an email.
Lake Ridge’s common areas were prepared to handle students during the pandemic. Star stickers lined the hallways six feet apart to show students where to stand to be socially distanced outside the classroom. Plastic bags covered the drinking fountains.
Taylor’s class had three recess periods each day. The backyard of the school was separated into zones, separating the playground, basketball courts and a large grassy field at the back of the property. Each grade level was designated to one zone for each recess, where students stayed for the full period.
Classes had scheduled bathroom breaks before or after recess. Different classes were not allowed to use the bathroom at the same time. Students were asked to use the bathroom even if they didn’t need the toilet to wash their hands. Taylor reminded her students about a way to make sure they spent enough time washing their hands.
“Sing happy birthday twice,” she said.
For lunch, classes mingled in the school’s cafeteria. But students were separated at least six feet apart at the lunch tables, and all faced the same direction. Students were allowed to talk to each other during lunch, but Taylor observed the cafeteria was a lot quieter than normal.
The Nampa School District’s plan for the year will keep schools in a hybrid model with mask requirements and limits on students allowed in the classroom until Canyon County is at the lowest risk level for COVID-19 with a positive test rate below 4%. One of Taylor’s students asked Taylor Monday how long students would have to wear masks and stay distanced from each other.
“It’s going to be like this for awhile ladies and gentlemen,” Taylor said.