A virtual-only start to the new school year because of the pandemic doesn’t mean campuses in the Santa Fe ISD are without students.
Because a significant number of students attending Santa Fe ISD live in rural areas with either no or spotty internet connectivity, among other issues that would make learning remotely unfeasible, the district is offering learning labs on each of its campuses.
“It’s our employees’ students, it’s our special-needs students who need that extra assistance, it’s some of our students who don’t have someone at home,” Santa Fe ISD spokeswoman Patti Hanssard said.
Although the district has distributed more than 3,000 laptop computers for students to use for virtual learning, internet access in parts of Santa Fe ISD is either erratic or non-existent.
“These are kids who are unable to get internet at home either because it’s a rural situation or can’t get it for other reasons,” Santa Fe High School Principal Rachel Harris said.
About 100 students at Barnett Elementary were making use of the learning labs Tuesday afternoon, spread out in different areas of the school — some in the library, some in common areas, some in classrooms. At Santa Fe High School and Santa Fe Junior High, the number of students in the learning labs was closer to a few dozen, and they were spread out in similar fashion.
Because the virtual learning is being conducted live rather than through recorded sessions, as it was in the spring when the pandemic began, students on campus are there during the hours they normally would be for in-person learning. This is giving those students an opportunity to learn the new social distancing protocols that will be in effect when in-person learning on the campuses resumes.
District administrators hope the students in learning labs already on campuses can help guide other students through the protocols when Santa Fe ISD begins a partial reopening of campuses for in-person learning Aug. 31.
“The beauty of it is they have time to learn to be a model for other students,” Hanssard said.
Already on Santa Fe ISD’s campuses, which began virtual learning with teachers in classrooms Thursday, are signage mandating masks be worn, as well as directions to students on how to walk through the hallways, where they can and can’t sit, and how to maintain proper social distance from one another.
“We instituted a policy this year that we have one-way hallways,” Santa Fe High School Associate Principal Jordan Goldman said. “There’s a couple of different figure-8 patterns that go throughout the school. Some hallways will have to be two-way, but in the academic wings, we just started putting up the sample signs. We’re figuring out the exact placement, but we designated a route of one-way hallways, so kiddos can travel in a circle. Part of that is certain stairwells are going to be one-way.”
Pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, sixth-grade and ninth-grade students will be the first allowed back on their respective campuses Aug. 31, and, if all goes as planned, the rest of the students are scheduled to return Sept. 8, Hanssard said.
Santa Fe ISD parents have a deadline of Aug. 25 to decide whether their children will learn in person on campuses or remain learning remotely at home, and parents are being asked to make a nine-week commitment to their decisions, Hanssard said.