LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – On Monday, the Konocti Unified School District brought elementary school students back onto school campuses in a hybrid model, allowing for social distancing with only about half of the students in the classroom at any given time.
What makes their return to in-person instruction unusual is the technology Konocti Unified has employed to connect the students at home with the students on campus.
“One of the reasons classroom-based learning is so powerful is the connection and interaction with others, so at Konocti Unified, we invested in technology that allows real-time interaction among students and between students and teachers,” said Konocti Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Becky Salato. “Now, even when students are learning remotely, they’ll be getting the same instruction at the same time, and they’ll be able to ask questions and participate rather than having to catch-up later.”
When the pandemic hit, it became clear to Salato that the need for remote instruction could extend beyond the current crisis.
In response, Konocti Unified purchased video cameras, microphones, large screens and the software required to facilitate interactivity for every classroom, TK-12, districtwide.
“Not only will this allow for the most engagement during the hybrid model, but it enables us to leap into the future of education, to provide more engagement and access for all students,” Salato said.
She explained that in the past, when students could not attend class for extended periods of time, they often fell behind, as in the case of a student on home hospital leave.
Salato noted that a one-hour visit once a week from an instructor was a poor substitute for daily class participation. With this new technology, a home-bound student could participate in class without putting their medical recovery at risk.
“It’s clear that after the pandemic ends we’ll continue to see barriers that prevent equal access to instruction. Now, we have a tool to reduce those barriers,” Salato said.
As students return to school campuses this week and in the weeks to come, Konocti Unified is using technology both to enhance academic instruction and to keep students and staff safe.
All students and staff are required to complete a self-evaluation via their cell phone or Chromebook to answer screening questions regarding potential COVID-19 exposure or symptoms before being allowed on campus. This reduces the risk of infection and prevents long waits at the gate when everyone arrives at school.
Elementary schools are open in the hybrid model now and secondary schools will open when Lake County Public Health gives Konocti Unified the green light, likely when Lake County drops from the purple tier to the red tier in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. That tier change will indicate the spread of COVID-19 has slowed in the community.
KUSD’s extensive safety measures either meet or exceed state and local public health requirements.
In addition to daily self-evaluations for COVID-19 exposure and symptoms, safety measures include mask-wearing and social distancing, no mixing of cohorts, and strict navigational pathways through campuses to reduce face-to-face contact.
Principals also sent videos to student families explaining what to expect upon their return to school, including instructions on how to wash hands and wear masks properly.
“We’ve painted arrows, so students know which direction to go and we have marked spots six feet apart, so they know where to stand before entering their classroom,” Salato explained.
For bus transportation, fewer students are allowed on the buses so children can be safely distanced, masks are required, and windows are open at all times.
On campuses, bathrooms are designated for specific classrooms and are sanitized regularly, and at the end of the day, students receive a grab-and-go lunch rather than eating on campus.
In addition, Konocti Unified provides COVID-19 testing for staff and, with parent permission, students, including both surveillance testing and symptomatic testing.
Based on Public Health guidelines while Lake County is in the purple tier, surveillance testing is offered every other week.
If a student or staff member shows symptoms, a quick-turnaround test is available with results in 15 minutes.
Finally, all Konocti Unified employees interested in being vaccinated have received their first dose and more than half have already received their second dose.
“Families who prefer full-time distance learning can continue to receive all their instruction online, but the overwhelming response from most families has been relief and joy for their children to be allowed to see friends and interact with their teachers in person,” Salato said.