Reopening CA: San Jose charter school welcomes students back with COVID-19 precautions in place

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Sunrise Middle School is welcoming students back to campus for the first time since the novel coronavirus forced school to shut down in March.

The middle school has an enrollment of 270 during the school year and about 80 students usually sign up for the optional summer instruction program. This year only 60 students were accepted with more on the waitlist.

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The school had to cap the number of students enrolled in the summer program to align with the classroom cap of twelve students, as outlined by the state.

Tuesday was the second day back to school for students. They were dropped off at staggered times based on their grade and lined up outside of the school's gates, spaced six feet apart to get their temperatures checked.

After checking in students, they head directly to one of the many sinks across campus to wash their hands. It's just the first step of a new, temporary normal.

"The first day back the students were kinda like a little uptight like 'What's all this about?'" said Teresa Robinson, Director of Sunrise Middle School. "But I think they're starting to loosen up. I think in the back of their minds they're wondering 'Is this all really necessary?'"

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But even on just the second-day students seemed to get the drill giving each other plenty of space and keeping their face masks on.

How do you get a middle school student to understand social distancing? The P.E. teacher made hats with pool noodles jutting out in a circle to teach the lesson. If your pool noodle touches another student you're too close.

Masks are required to be worn by all students, teachers, and staff at all times with the exception of lunch.

Students seemed ready to get back to class. They were eager to follow safety guidelines if it meant they could see their friends again.

"I feel like I was just in a box sitting there all alone," said Xitlaly Garcia, a seventh-grade student at the charter school.

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"I think it's just good for all of us to get out of the house and actually interact with other people even though we're still separated," said sixth-grade student Kayla Torres.

The lunchroom will remain empty for the foreseeable future. Students will stay at their desks and be served a prepackaged boxed lunch. They'll be required to wash their hands before and after lunch.

Staff also said students will be required to wash their hands and have their temperature taken again as they prepare to head home for the day.

Students will get physical activity too. They'll be playing with super soakers and practicing soccer penalty kicks -- low contact activities to keep them active.

As school systems across the Bay Area decide if in-person instruction, virtual learning, or a hybrid is best for the fall Torres explains why online learning is leaving some students behind.

"Sometimes the internet doesn't really work for me or sometimes it glitches or sometimes you don't know what to do," she said.

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As for Sunrise Middle School, Robinson said she and her staff are still coordinating what Fall classes will look like. She said she surveyed her parents, most of whom work full-time, and they are not in favor of students going to schools on opposite days or half-day instruction to reduce crowding. Parents expressed their concerns about their children walking home in the middle of the day or being left home for an extended period of time -- even all day if an A-day, B-day schedule is put in place.

Robinson said she's currently working on determining how grant money could be used to allow for after school instruction that would keep students on campus for the duration of the class day.

"I think the ones who were anxious about coming back did not come back," said Robinson, "So the ones who are here feel pretty good about it."

She's hoping all of our students feel good about coming back for Fall classes in just a few short months.

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