Burbank Unified Students And Staff Return To School Campuses

George Washington Elementary School students talk with Principal Brandi Young and BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill on the first afternoon of in person school on Monday, April 12. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

Burbank Unified students, teachers and staff returned to school campuses beginning Monday, April 12, for in person education during weekday afternoons.

Most campuses saw a small sampling of their total school population return for the afternoon sessions. Approximately one-third of the total Burbank Unified student population of 15,000 have opted in for the in person afternoon sessions, while the majority of students have chosen to remain in the distance learning model for the remainder of the school year.

“I am already hearing from parents how happy their kids are after just one day on campus,” commented Dolores Huerta Middle School Principal Dr. Jennifer Meglemre. “The energy on the campus yesterday from the teachers and students was amazing.”

“Our sixth grade teachers all planned school tours and it was great to see groups of students walking around campus. All of our students are wearing masks and following the social distancing rules,” she added. “We are checking temperatures and health screening as students come on campus and we have opened up four entrance points to help get students move through this process quickly.”

On Tuesday, April 13, “I went into the auditorium and saw the Madrigals choir all together on stage,” Meglemre continued. “They started with a name game and then played a game called Poison in which students clap out a rhythm but have to avoid clapping the rhythm that the teacher has posted.”

“They play this game virtually, but it was the first time the class was together and could hear one another. This is the great joy of the performing arts that the students have missed this year – being part of an ensemble and hearing your voice or instrument as part of a whole.”

“In a couple of sixth grade social science classrooms, students were fashioning miniature terra cotta soldiers while learning about the discovery of the life-size sculptures in China,” Meglemre also said.

“Many of the students coming on campus are quiet and subdued. It is clear that they are unused to spending time with groups of students,” she said. “Teachers are planning activities to help them get to know one another. The small class sizes make it feel a little more informal and I hope that as we get closer to the end of the school year, students will start to come out of their shells.”

Superintendent Matt Hill visited seven of the BUSD school sites on Monday, April 12, and plans to visit all of the school sites by the end of the week.

“It was exciting to feel the energy on our campuses as more students and staff returned to school,” Hill commented. “The School Board members and I want to thank all of our employees for making this happen. We are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Luther Burbank Middle School Principal Dr. Oscar Macias prepares to welcome students back on campus on Monday, April 12. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

In March, students and their families were asked to complete an online form indicating their choice for continuing in distance learning or returning to school campuses in the afternoons. Negotiations with the Burbank Teachers Association were completed a few weeks ago and revised remote learning and in person schedules were settled.

Students may switch once during the remaining weeks of the academic year to either total distance learning or hybrid in person afternoons, with an exception made for those in the hybrid model who have to return to distance for medical or family reasons. The last day of BUSD’s Spring semester is Thursday, May 27.

If students are enrolled in the hybrid model and do not show up on campus, they will be marked absent.

“I just wanted to let all the moms know who were on the fence about sending your kids back this week and wondering if it was worth it… I can tell you it 100% was,” commented parent Kristi Dadekian in a social media post on Monday, April 12.

“My girls were anxious about going this afternoon, but they all came back happier and in better spirits than I’ve seen them in MONTHS!” she continued. “They said it was fun and they had a great time. So for those of you who signed up and your kids go on Wednesday – it is not just a boring study hall.”

“They get to see other kids and chat during class – depending on the teacher. Plus they also got some of their homework done. And everything is extremely safe! I am so happy that this is happening. Thank you teachers and BUSD! Some kids really needed this.”

Students prepare to enter school for the first day of on campus classes on Monday, April 12. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

Students who opted in to return were split into two different groups – those with last names A – L attend on Monday and Tuesday afternoons and those with last names M – Z attend Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

“It was so much fun!” said Luther Burbank sixth-grader Georgia Dadekian. “All my teachers made it so that we could talk to our other classmates while staying socially distanced.”

“It was great!” added Luther student Lana Dadekian. “I was happy to be back on campus with my friends again for my eighth grade year.”

John Burroughs High School junior Sonya Dadekian said, “I was so happy to see all my friends and just be back on the campus again.”

Sixth- and seventh-grade English teacher Lucia Bowers has seen about 40% of her students return to Huerta Middle School for classes in the afternoons. School-wide, Huerta has approximately 20-25% of the total school population showing up for in person afternoons Monday through Thursday, according to Meglemre.

“My children (grades 2, 9, and 10) are all staying home,” Bowers said, whose children also attend Burbank schools. “Thankfully, my husband works from home; otherwise, I do not know how I would manage having them in distance learning with me returning to campus.”

“My youngest child has severe respiratory issues that hospitalized him yearly prior to COVID,” she explained. “We feel it is too risky for him to be in the classroom.”

Burbank students walk to school on the first day of in person classes on Monday, April 12. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

“My two high schoolers are thriving in distance learning. They have gotten a routine down and feel like they would not benefit much from being on campus. They have been able to meet with their clubs and activities online, have weekly Zoom game nights with friends, and do distanced backyard get-togethers with their friends.”

“I’ve asked them and one of their big regrets is that they won’t get to see their teachers and staff in person; since they are seeing some friends, it’s meeting the teachers and staff they are missing out,” she also said. “If I would have had the option, I would have stayed home, too. As it is, I am taking as many precautions as I can.”

“I am thankful that I have a large space to work in that has a sink, good ventilation, and small enough cohorts that I feel like I have a good handle on distancing. Not all my colleagues can say the same,” Bowers added. “Even with my anxiety, after the first moments of being with my first batches of kids, it immediately feel nice to hear and see my students in person after all this time.”

“I would like to thank the district and site administrators, school staff, and families for pulling together and making the best of this unprecedented situation,” she continued. “I know for a lot of families, having an opportunity to be on campus has provided much needed support.”

“On the flip side, allowing students to stay at home has been important to many of our families, too. The many educators I know are split in their feelings about returning. For every staff member that is genuinely excited to be on campus, there’s another who is anxious about it.”

“My colleagues and I have talked about how we are all feeling vastly different emotions. We need to be patient with each other, just like we are with our students,” Bowers said. “It’s a hard situation, but if we try to remember that everyone is coming at this from a very different emotional place and personal situation, we can give each other the support we need to get through it.”

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