Percentages of Students Returning Declines as Grade Levels Go Up

More students returned to the Everett Public Schools (EPS) on Monday for in-person learning five days per week, though district officials said they are seeing fewer students return in the older grades, and expect even fewer to return to the high school grades when that is allowed.

Students across the district in Pre-K, and then in the 6-8 middle school grades returned to the classroom if they so choose on Monday, joining grades K-5 that returned earlier this month. Supt. Priya Tahiliani said it was an exciting time for the school district to have the energy of students and teachers in the buildings for the first time in a long time – noting about 3,500 students are now learning in person.

“Today was day one and it’s hard to draw any long-term considerations, but it would be correct to say that there were many smiling faces and it was great to see the students back,” she said. “The teachers were happy to see them back. It was like the first day of school, but at the end of April.”

Many students still remain remote in the school district, even though the schools could reasonably accommodate 100 percent of the students in a socially distant fashion. The K-5 students saw a very large amount of the overall student body return earlier this month, with about 65 percent of the students choosing to come to school five-days a week in person, while 35 percent remained at home.

However, Supt. Tahiliani said the middle school grades showed less of an appetite for in-person learning, with about 50 percent returning on Monday to school, and 50 percent opting to stay remote.

“What’s interesting and we’re still compiling the numbers is this time the number of students who showed up and didn’t return their forms,” she said. “We were still waiting on answers from 500 families last week…K-5 as a family you need to plan ahead; you have to have a plan in place for child care and instruction. I think we’ll see the same thing in 9-12 when they are potentially back to school and opt to stay at home and do remote learning. We have heard from families they find that our remote model to be very sound…”

Despite the lower numbers returning to middle school, Tahiliani said there was a buzz in the buildings, and teachers are finding great success in adjusting to teaching kids in the classroom and at home simultaneously.

“I walked through the classrooms today and in K-8 there were no empty classrooms and that’s very exciting to see students in every single classroom,” she said.

“There is definitely a buzz in the schools,” she said. “Spring has sprung and everyone is happy…It’s a great way to end our year.”

As with all returns to school, there have been COVID-19 cases pop up, and Tahiliani said that is the case in Everett, but they are confident in their procedures and protocols.

For the week April 12-16, prior to School Spring Break, there were 13 positive cases reported in the school system out of about 3,500 students – and the cases include staff and support staff also. In addition, there were 19 close contacts identified.

Graduation Will Be in Person, With Limits

As fun as the drive-thru graduation was last year, this year Supt. Priya Tahiliani said they would be hosting a traditional, in-person graduation ceremony at Veterans Memorial Stadium, but with attendance limits.

“I think we’re looking at a traditional graduation this year with limited guests,” she said. “That was the DESE guidance. Right now, we’re thinking four guests per graduate if we’re in the ‘yellow’ risk category, and two guests if we’re in the ‘red’ risk category.”

The graduation would take place outside at the Stadium as it has for so many years, up until last year when the ceremony was cancelled due to COVID and the district staged an elaborate drive-thru ceremony in early June.

Tahiliani said there were many good memories from that ceremony, and they would try to recreate it in some fashion.

“We definitely have good memories of the drive-thru,” she said. “We didn’t know what to expect. We did hear that people liked it. So, we are planning a community drive-thru for Senior Week. That could be a tradition moving forward. One thing we did hear was the community involvement and people did like that.”

She said families and graduates gave good feedback last year about meeting elected officials, while being greeted by Everett Bank staff and Eliot Community Resource Center staff. She said that’s something they’re going to try to recreate somehow for Senior Week.

The Future of Work-School Balance for Students

One of the realities of COVID-19 in working class communities like Everett has been that so many students have had to – or chose to – increase their hours at what might have been a part-time job before COVID.

Many students are now reportedly trying to work to help their families while also trying to attend remote schooling. Other students have realized they have some more freedom to work more hours and save up for college. Already, many students are reporting their peers have forgone sports or after-school activities to work.

Tahiliani said, especially for students helping to support their family, this new world of the working students isn’t likely to change when school fully returns. That has caused them to re-think the school experience for a portion of the student body.

“Our school leaders have seen this and understand the dynamic and are supporting our students through that,” she said. “I definitely know they have been able to support students that work through asynchronous or remote instruction. What we’re thinking about moving forward is how to maintain that flexibility and support our working students in a way that is more flexible than the cookie cutter high school situation.”

She said they are considering that for some students, maybe more of a college campus situation would be a better fit – with open hours and more non-traditional ways of learning. She said many educators in urban districts fear that if they don’t adjust to this new world of the working student, these students will disengage and potentially drop out as a necessity.

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