EXCLUSIVE: East Bay school's hybrid model could be key to reviving in-person learning across Bay Area

Orinda Intermediate in the East Bay has come up with a hybrid model for in-person learning, that could potentially serve as a blueprint for other Bay Area public schools.
ORINDA, Calif. (KGO) -- Orinda teacher Michelle Pinney knows all about multi-tasking to meet the realities of teaching her sixth-graders in person, and remotely, at the same time.

"The one thing that makes it manageable is the awesome students that we have," said Pinney. "They are resilient. They are flexible. They are patient."

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ABC7 News was allowed to record video of Pinney's class from a safe distance, through an open door.

It's an age group, all the way up through high school, that's proved challenging to bring back in-person for many Bay Area public school districts.

"We currently have three cohorts, A, B and C," explained Orinda Intermediate School Principal Stacy Wayne. "The A's and B's are in hybrid so they come back every other day. The C's are fully remote."

About 80 percent of Orinda's sixth-graders are back in this hybrid model, with in-person classes two days a week. The district's elementary students attend in-person half-day sessions four days a week.

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Lietz Elementary students will be back to in-person school on Monday, February 22, 2021.



The plan developed with Orinda's employee unions includes plexiglass partitions, masks, hand-washing, distancing, improved ventilation and cleaning in every classroom.

There is also weekly COVID-19 testing for staff and teachers.

"It took many meetings. I believe it was over 30 meetings," said Dr. Carolyn Seaton PhD, Superintendent of the Orinda Union School District. "We do have a supportive parent community, but this was not about money. We actually got a lot less money from the state and federal government than many other districts, and have had to use some additional money that might've gone to instructional supplies."

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Anything that could be considered higher risk, like choral practice, has been moved outside.

Students are not allowed to congregate, and except for an outside snack or sip from a water bottle, there are no lunches.

Still, for many Orinda sixth-graders, being back in class has been a welcome change.

"It's pretty hard to make new friends on Zoom," said one student. "That's why it's really convenient to get to go back to school because you get to meet the new friends you made."

Orinda plans to bring back its upper middle school grades once Contra Costa County moves into a less restrictive COVID-19 tier.

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