Hybrid learning: what to expect

Photo credit: Sydney Riemer.

To the 9th graders who have yet to step on campus as a Blue,
To the 10th graders who were just getting the hang of maneuvering the halls of Urban,
To the 11th graders who last left Urban’s campus as underclassmen,
To the 12th graders who didn’t envision their senior year away from the garden on those sunny days and in the Old Library during breaks,

On February 26, 2021, our Head of School Dan Miller, gave us all a glimpse of hope, a first step to returning to normal. Following Interterm Break, Hybrid Urban will officially begin on March 16th, 2021. Though Week 1 of the Spring Term will remain online, those that have tested negative for COVID-19 and opted into in-person learning will attend an orientation and be welcomed onto campus during the subsequent week of March 22.

Urban first received permission to reopen school after the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) approved their in-person Hybrid schedule that featured the 4-10 model in early November. The 4-10 model, in its most basic form, is a cycle that allows students to come to school for four days to learn in-person, then spend 10 days away before repeating the process the following week.

A resurgence of cases and hospitalizations, however, forced the county of San Francisco to move from the Red Tier to the Purple Tier, pausing any plans of reopening. “If you did not manage to get students on campus, you are on pause,” said Assistant Head of School for Student Life, Charlotte Worsley. “I will say it feels a bit arbitrary as to who got to be on pause, and who got to stay open.” Schools that had been approved and had students in the building before the city shifted back into the Purple Tier were allowed to remain open no matter the color tier. Schools that had yet to officially reopen, which included Urban and a handful of other independent high schools, would resume rolling out their plans to get students back in the classroom only when the city had returned to the Red Tier. Few may have predicted that the moment of reopening would be pushed back by over three months, as the city remained stuck in Purple Tier. However, on Wednesday, March 3, San Francisco finally entered the Red Tier and Urban was allowed to move ahead with its hybrid plans.

“Because we learned our lesson [about taking our time] last November…this time, I don’t care if it’s Week 12 because if I get students in the building, then we will never shut again,” said Worsley. For this reason, on February 24, 2021, Worsley sent an email to leaders of Student Committee and MultiCulti with news that the campus could potentially be reopened immediately following a transition to the Red Tier. These students were asked to get tested and come to school Wednesday afternoon on the contingency that San Francisco County move into the Red Tier. Ten students arrived on campus Wednesday, March 3, at 3:00 pm. Their presence alone ensured that Urban’s plans to officially reopen at the start of the Spring Term could not be halted yet again.

“Every single adult in the school has done something. It is a joint effort,” said Worsley. Staff, admin, facilities, the janitorial staff and faculty have long been planning for this day, working extra to make Hybrid Urban a reality.

The Hybrid Urban schedule consists of two different rotating weeks: a “virtual week” and a “hybrid week.” As mentioned above, the Spring Term will begin with a virtual week, while the following week will be hybrid. The in-person weeks will include “four intensive days on campus. And then one day off, which is a little light on the academics, because we’re all going to be exhausted by after that,” Worsley said. To come on campus, students must be tested no earlier than the Thursday before they plan to come to school. By starting the trimester with a virtual week, it is ensured that all students have the opportunity to be tested before in-person classes resume.

Though Urban is reopening its doors, it’s important to remember that “we’re still in the Red Tier, We’re not in orange, we’re not in yellow. And if we can all recall the Red Tier, which I think we’ve just all forgotten what it was, it was still pretty strict,” said Worsley. Numerous safety measures have been put in place including sanitizers located around campus, directional hallways, and classroom occupancy limits to accommodate social distancing.

For Hybrid Urban to succeed, there are four crucial steps all students must take:

1) Maintain at least 6 feet distance from others
2) Wear a well-fitted mask/s
3) Wash hands with soap and water constantly
4) Don’t stray from your stable group(s) – Safety Tip: you should participate in no more than 2 stable groups

Students are also expected to remain vigilant for updates to in-person rules and review both the Hybrid Urban Addendum in the Student Handbook as well as the latest information provided by the CDC website as further research has warranted changes, especially in regards to masks with the latest discovery of new strains of COVID-19.

In an email received March 2, sent to parents and guardians, each student was assigned a cohort, also referenced as a stable group. “For purposes of balancing safety with Urban’s schedule, we still are having people go to four classes,” said Worsley. In a hybrid week, a student will attend all four of their enrolled classes, but only two in a given day. “We’re treating everything you do, between 9:00 am and 3:30 pm…as one stable group.” It’s recommended that an individual does not participate in more than two stable groups for the ease of contact-tracing. One’s second stable group may come in different forms, such as an Urban sports team or perhaps an activity outside of Urban such as music, dance or a club sport.

“The biggest advantage is…when I hear people who are in person and how much it feels like a jolt of energy,” said Worsley. “Even if you’re facing forward…with your teacher behind a plexiglass thing, to hear people’s voices, not over Zoom…I think that people will feel grateful for what it is and not as much worried about what it isn’t. I think it will whet our appetite for the end [of the pandemic].” There is no doubt that the human interaction associated with being fully in-person school will be missed, but even the minimal in-person time will likely benefit future interactions in class on Zoom and strengthen the community.

“The only thing I asked Urban students to do is do your homework. So make sure you know how to use the wellness screener, you read everything that comes out,” said Worsley. “Be prepared to be safe, you know, we really are in it together. And we need you all to step up and do your part…[so] we’ll all be able to stay in the building through the spring.”