The Bloomfield Hills Board of Education met on Oct. 8 to review a COVID data update and collect feedback, as the district approaches the first full week of in-person learning. Also on Oct. 8, the final group of students returned to school.
Bloomfield Hills Superintendent Patrick Watson updated the community and board that “for the next 21 days, we will continue the hybrid model and a full return will be based on metrics.”
Bloomfield Hills began the school year fully virtual and has since started phasing in students. The process to go back to in-person began with preschoolers and specialized programs on Sept. 14, while other grades and programs followed in stages. Families not comfortable with this transition also have a fully virtual option, according to the Bloomfield Hills blueprint website, a dedicated site for the return-to-learning plan.
The school board will continue to monitor cases and other health metrics to keep the district safe.
“We’ll keep working to meet the needs of our students, and I know everyone wishes it could be faster, but I’m going to say I’m extremely proud of the way we came back because what we’re doing right now is we’re seeing that our protocols work, our procedures work,” said Watson at the school board meeting.
Planning has already begun to bring students back full time and for the challenges that would arise, should regulations and guidelines allow it, said Watson at the meeting.
Bloomfield Hills High School Principal Charlie Hollerith also weighed in as the district concludes their first week of face-to-face classes.
“As we finish our first week with our hybrid schedule, it was great to see so many students come into the building, it was great to greet them all, we are very excited,” said Hollerith at the school board meeting. “I can’t commend the students and staff enough for the implementation of COVID health and safety protocols. Whether it’s wearing masks, social distancing or even navigating the new lunchtime configurations and seating, students and staff have done an amazing job keeping our building and keeping each other safe.”
Keeping safety at the forefornt of plans
Starting Sept. 25, kindergarten through eighth-grade students began in-classroom learning either in a morning or afternoon cohort on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Those students at school in the morning continue the school day virtually in asynchronous learning and vice-versa.
Shira Good serves as Bloomfield Hills Schools Director of Communications and Service Standards.
“Everything to this point has been months of research, thoughtful consideration, and consulting with local, state, national, and international health professionals,” Good said. “We take seriously our responsibility to ensure health and safety for all students, staff and visitors so we carefully constructed our plan to return.”
High school students were also divided into cohorts and went back to school at different times to ensure CDC and Oakland County guidelines. It was not until Oct. 1 that freshmen Cohort A returned to school in person, while freshmen Cohort B started Oct. 2. Grades nine through twelve Cohort A joined the rest of the district on Oct. 5 and the remaining students in grades nine through twelve Cohort B followed on Oct. 8.
“In general, the plan has been well received,” Good said. “We recognize there are families who still desire in-person learning, five full days per week. At this time, we are not prepared to transition to that model, but we are finalizing the plans for when we do and will present that to the Board of Education in two weeks at the next meeting.
Cohort A students attend in-person instruction on Mondays and Tuesdays, while Cohort B attends the classes through distance learning concurrently, and on Thursdays and Fridays, the cohorts switch roles. On Wednesdays, all students district-wide attend classes through distance learning focused on social-emotional learning and student wellness, according to Bloomfield Hills Schools website.
“Not one part of this is easy, but it’s important and valuable work so our teams are finding a lot of resilience in that,” Good said. “I know one of the biggest challenges is not seeing our students in the ways we’re accustomed [to] for teaching and learning. That being said, our teachers are tremendously creative and innovative and are finding fantastic ways to foster authentic engagement regardless of the current challenges.”
Student and parent response
Nia Michalos is a senior at Bloomfield Hills High School and began in-person school Oct. 5 with Cohort A.
“I’m really excited to get back with my friends, but also upset because it isn’t how it used to be,” Nia said. “Of course there is a higher risk of getting COVID-19 with being back so it should be interesting.”
While measures are being taken to keep students and staff safe and COVID-free, there is still a risk that concerns students like Nia.
Nia said she prefers virtual learning because it is safer. “I also like how relaxed it is,” she said. “I feel that being home I am able to focus more because I am way more comfortable.”
Nia’s mother, Denise Michalos, shares her daughter’s concerns but is also happy to see Bloomfield Hills opening their doors.
“I feel good about going back to in-person learning,” Denise said. “Although I would go about the hybrid model differently, I definitely think the kids need to be in school.”
Michalos also recognizes the advantages and disadvantages of the district’s hybrid format.
“Pros [of going back in person] are that they get a break from being stuck at home all day and a change of scenery, they get to socialize, although not a ton, and that they’re able to get to know their teachers on a more personal level,” Denise said. “Cons would be that even though they’re in school, they’re still stuck in front of their computers on Zoom.”
The community response, like Michalos’, to distance learning has generally been a good one, Good said.
“Not being able to be with one another is a tremendous impact to everyone involved,” Good said. “We have all remarked about the enormous support of the community and the way we’ve all come together. COVID is a challenge for everyone and our students stepped it up big time.”