Back to School: BISD preps for in-person learning

The Brownsville Independent School District provided a glimpse Tuesday of what in-person instruction will look like once students start returning to classrooms starting today in the high schools and on Monday everywhere else.

Welcome to Lucio Middle School, where the hallways are divided using red-and-white posts with chains draped between them and markings on the floor to indicate the correct direction of travel and enforce social distancing.

Principal Chester Arizmendi said he got the idea in the stores and went from there, adding that it’s best to establish the rules at the beginning of the year. The idea was a hit with Superintendent Rene Gutierrez, who took pictures and sent them to other principals.

Lucio will welcome its first students of the school year today, when teachers who have children of middle school age are allowed to bring their students to school with them. That’s only five or six students, but the number will increase gradually.

The schools are reopening in phases, with high school students needing to recover credit returning today, followed on Monday by special education students and those without devices or internet access in grades pre-k through 2nd, 8th and 12th grades. Similar such students in 3rd, 4th, 7th and 11th grades will be added on Oct. 5, with those in 5th, 6th, 9th and 10th grades joining them on Oct. 13.

Arizmendi said a survey of his school’s 850 students showed that 157 wanted to come in for classroom learning. Each will get an ID card with a barcode so the school can keep track of how many students are in the building and other essential information.

He said teachers will continue teaching as they have since Aug. 25, in most cases from a laptop computer using Google Classroom. Students attending in-person classes will sit in their teacher’s classroom, but attend class via Google Classroom. Arizmendi said all Lucio students have received Google Chromebooks for distance learning. But Lucio has a rural attendance area, and some students were unable to connect to the internet even with a hotspot.

Teachers referred to a similar dynamic, saying that some students fade in and out of classes as the internet signal comes and goes.

Arizmendi said BISD has been working on its reopening plan, in a sense, since the lockdown started in March, but in his case in earnest for about the last three months.

Tuesday was about as normal as could be expected. Choir director Paul Wooderson guided voice students through singing a descending five-note scale. Seventh-grade English language arts and reading teacher Yazmin Moreno guided 27 students in one class through completing an assignment on the difference between common and proper nouns.

Meanwhile Kimberly Perez, a substitute sixth-grade science teacher worked with students on a hypothesis, evidence and a conclusion. Art teacher Rosalinda Gaona worked with her students on mixing colors, a prelude to doing actual drawings. She said students seem to like her class because not many of them are missing. The class she was teaching at the time had 29 students.

In the gymnasium, physical education teachers and volleyball coaches Rebecca Medina and Juanita Guerra worked on a video they would post later on volleyball technique. They said they work on exercises like jumping jacks and pushups for the PE classes, while the volleyball technique videos are for pre-athletic and athletic students who normally receive instruction after school.

Gutierrez said 98 to 100% of teachers reported to work at their campuses on Monday. He added that teachers who don’t have any students coming in for in-person classes have the option of continuing to teach from home, although there are few such cases.

“We want to keep everyone safe. There will be masks, social distancing and lots of hand washing and hand sanitizer everywhere,” he said.