Students at Gloucester High School will be returning to full-time, in-person school days either May 10 or 17, a little more than a month left before graduation for seniors. 

The shift to full days comes as state Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley announced on April 27 that he would require all school districts in the Commonwealth to provide high school students with full-time, in-person learning by May 17.  

“Every day a child is in a classroom is crucial. In addition to academic instruction and support, we know when students are in school, they have the opportunity to learn important social and emotional skills and have access to healthy meals as well as mental health and other support services,” Riley said in a prepared statement.

Rockport High School students, except for those who opted for remote learning,  returned to weekday in-person learning on April 26. Manchester Essex Regional High School students have been in class five days a week since April 12.   

Prior to Riley’s announcement, Gloucester High had been operating under a hybrid learning approach. Gloucester’s middle and elementary schools went back to full-time, in-person learning in April. 

Roughly 120 teens have chosen to learn from home by utilizing the district’s Remote Academy. The deadline for students to opt in or out of Remote Academy has passed, Superintendent Ben Lummis said. 

“With the robust mitigation strategies schools have put in place and all the scientific data around schools’ safety, it is time to begin the process of returning all K-12 students to classrooms. By bringing high school students back now, we will be in a stronger position to start school in the fall,” said state Education Secretary James Peyser. “As we have stated repeatedly during this school year, there is no substitute for in-person learning, particularly for students with disabilities and English learners.”

Required changes

As they prepare for yet another change in the school year, Gloucester High’s administrators have been working to avoid potential problems that could result from a return to in-person learning. 

Now that the Centers for Disease Control has cited that it is safe for students to be three feet apart in classrooms, the high school's staff used a computer geometric-based tool to analyze each classroom's configurations and oddities to see how they could be rearranged to fit more students than currently fit with 6-foot spacing.

When the whole class cannot fit within one room, a satellite class will be implemented to avoid cramming people closer than the three feet of separation. 

“Where the classes cannot fit in one room, we rotate students out of the space so they are remote but in the building,” principal James Cook said on Wednesday. “This work will be done section by section, course by course, with administration working with the program leaders and teachers to empower the teacher to be involved in determining how to best use the satellite space for the students.” 

To have students eat lunch six feet apart in school, they'll be chowing down in the field house. There, the school administration has ordered a floor covering for the newly renovated floors as protection.  

"It has been a really challenging school year and I couldn't be prouder of our staff, our school leaders and the community in step by step, sticking with it throughout the whole year," Lummis said. 

Teens' perspectives

As teachers and administrators are adjusting their expectations for what academic year looks like yet again, so are students. 

When senior Ava Hale, 18, first heard that she andf other high schoolers would be going back to full days of school, she was irritated. 

“It was sudden and has caused me to have to change my schedule around in a way that doesn’t benefit me,” she told the Times on Friday.  

Hale said she had plenty of time to get homework done and pick up additional hours at work under the current schedule but won't on May 17 and after. 

“I have to cut back on work or take up night shifts. I can no longer bring my sister home from school. I also won’t have much time to complete homework or get ready for my job since I start right after we get out,” Hale explained. 

Martina Gallo, 18, expects the switch to full days of school to “definitely change how I will learn.” 

“I mean we have gotten used to taking tests online, and doing all of our work at home or just on our own,” she said Friday. “While we will still do a lot of work on our own, going from focusing on your teacher for online class for a few hours, to focusing in class for the full day in person will definitely be hard.” 

While Hale and Gallo, along with the thousands of other students across the state, will have to change their rhythms to comply with the state mandate, they are determined to finish strong and stay positive. 

"I think finishing off the year surrounded by my classmates will definitely be fun, and motivating to see others in the same boat as me," Gallo said.

Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.

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