With Covid cases in New Mexico spiking, the latest public health order did not shut schools down. Some area schools made the move to remote learning anyway, while others did not.
Moriarty-Edgewood School District, Mountainair Public Schools, and Estancia Municipal Schools have all recently gone remote, while Estancia Valley Classical Academy remains in a hybrid model, and East Mountain High School has been fully remote since the beginning of the school year.
Dawn Apodaca, superintendent of Mountainair schools, said the district went remote for pre-K through sixth grade and Special Education on their own terms.
Once they saw the rise in cases close to the district, those grades joined the middle and high schoolers in remote learning, but the district had been preparing for a while, she said.
“We were ready for this,” she said. “We were prepared. “What that means is for elementary, all of my kids went home with a trifold board, and so when the child opens that individualized trifold board up, it has their schedule, their password, their login information, inspirational quotes like ‘You’re doing a good job,’ and ‘Keep it up.’… Also, if you set that on your dining room table, what you have is a little piece of privacy with your tablet in front of you. It kind of helps to block out those external distractions as well.”
Teresa Salazar, superintendent of Moriarty-Edgewood schools, said the district is now remote for all grades, and the buildings in the district are shut down for the next two weeks to encourage educators to stay home. After Nov. 30 they’ll be allowed to teach from their classrooms.
Cindy Sims, superintendent of Estancia schools, said the school board decided in an emergency meeting today that pre-K through sixth graders will join the other grades in remote learning starting Nov. 23.
“While the Board and staff feel in-person learning is best for our students, the district must prioritize student and staff safety in light of the virus spread in the community,” she said. “The district has had zero school spread of the virus due to the diligent implementation of safety and sanitation protocols.”
Jennifer Mock, Executive Director of the Estancia Valley Classical Academy in Edgewood, said the school year started with remote learning, but they switched to a hybrid model for Pre-K through sixth graders in September, with no plans to change unless an updated order forces them to.
Trey Smith, principal of East Mountain High School, said they’ve been in remote learning since the beginning of the school year, adding that since the Public Education Department has not discussed hybrid models for high school students, it doesn’t seem to be like a viable option any time soon.
“We have had small groups of Special Education students on campus, as well as athletics practices,” he said. “Those are both on hold during the current spike in cases, but we hope to be able to bring more students who need services in person as soon as possible.”
Smith also said EMHS’s teachers are doing a “phenomenal job,” and the students are rising to the occasion to learn, as well.
Sims said the school year has been stressful for both parents and teachers trying to adjust to this new norm, but everyone is doing their best.
“Teachers at the secondary level have been implementing a variety of incentives for attendance, work completion, and individual student improvement,” she said. “The weekly drawings being held during secondary student advisory are proving to be very motivating resulting in higher levels of student engagement and more regular attendance. … Finally, this has been tough on parents who have had to step up their participation in the educational process with hours spent on homework and support of their students, acting in many cases as the home teacher.”
Apodaca said one of her biggest concerns is the fact that Mountainair has the highest percentage of middle and high school students with one or more Fs, and attendance and spotty internet are the biggest factors.
“When we’re having attendance meetings with our families, they’re attributing some of that to internet access or unstable internet access,” she said. “Currently, I have 40 jetpacks out in the community, and hopefully tomorrow I have another 20 coming in so that I can completely cover all the families that were identifying unstable connectivity.”
Those “jetpacks” are devices that allows someone to wirelessly share a Verizon network connection with other devices, according to Verizon’s website.
“We are also doing home visits every day,” Apodaca said. “These kids that are repeat offenders, and that are just not getting [online], we are knocking on doors visiting homes and that will continue.”
Salazar said her staff has been professional in their “willingness to do whatever it takes to provide students with instruction.” She also said some students are struggling, but the district will continue new strategies to meet their needs.
Salazar said MESD has provided lunches for all students since this summer, whether they’re remote or hybrid, via grab and go services.
She said the district is anticipating the state to provide resources for lunches during winter break, as well.
Mock said EVCA doesn’t have a school lunch program and kids bring their own lunch to school, but students who are remote learning can get free lunches provided by MESD.
Smith also said East Mountain doesn’t have facilities for food distribution, so the school has told families to look into programs from Bernalillo County or Albuquerque Public Schools.
Sims said Estancia schools provide lunch to students learning in-person, drive-up students, and also sends buses to locations in Torreón, Tajique, Willard, and McIntosh. The district has also been serving breakfast five days a week since April.
Sims said she is very proud of the variety and quality of meals. “The student nutrition staff does a fabulous job with a fantastic menu,” she said. “Pulled pork sandwiches, homemade beef and bean burritos, and this week, a full Thanksgiving meal. Our remote students eat the same meals as our in-person students.”
Apodaca said Mountainair schools will continue to feed kids of all ages with five sites: Manzano, Punta De Agua, Abó, the rodeo grounds, and the elementary school cafeteria.
“However, effective Monday, there are new times,” she said. “We’re going to try new times for those locations, so it gives my high schoolers a bigger opportunity or a better opportunity to get out of their class, get to a lunch site, get a meal, sit down and eat it and then get back to class. We’re hoping that we can increase our numbers that we’re feeding by changing the times, but it’s a trial.”
Apodaca said all she wants is her kids back to school to learn in person.
“Our kids truly need to have in person learning where they’re socializing with their friends, and some of our kids just do not do well having to be a self-starter, self-motivated kind of learner,” she said. “That’s my real wish, where we get to a place where we can come back sooner rather than later.”