Students, Teachers in Mount Diablo District Weigh the Benefits and Risks Of In-Person Learning

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; CC BY 2.0. Photo by Rob Swystun.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; CC BY 2.0. Photo by Rob Swystun.

Daphne Mullen, Staff

After struggling with online school for the past year and a half, students, teachers and staff in the Mount Diablo Unified School District are adjusting to the transition back to in-person learning. But safety remains a big concern for many, even as vaccination rates continue to increase throughout the Bay Area.

Ann Lemak, a third grade teacher at Ygnacio Valley Elementary School in Concord said she feels hopeful, if not entirely at ease, with the return to in-person instruction.

“Being able to be with the kids in person makes a huge difference,” Lemak said. “They seem more motivated and engaged with school.”

Lemak admitted that one of the biggest challenges is “making sure they keep their masks on, making sure they aren’t touching each other, trying to get students to work together but also keep their distance.”

The constant vigilance required of school teachers has added a new level of complexity to the job. “It’s difficult because COVID goes against all the things we normally do in classrooms,” Lemak said. But, “my hope is that school will continue to be fully in-person.”

Celeste Kitts, the principal of Wren Avenue Elementary School, also in Concord, expressed mixed emotions about the in-person transition and how it has been affecting the staff and community.

“I’m looking forward to rebuilding the community that this school had prior to the shutdown, and having more family events on campus, getting families and students more involved in those community events, and creating that safe neighborhood school space,” Kitts told The Inquirer.

The changes imposed on educators and students since their return to the classrooms haven’t been easy to adapt to. “I do think that the COVID regulations and safety protocols that we didn’t have to follow before are making education far more stressful than it ever was,” she added.

Nonetheless, “It needs to be brought to everyone’s attention that we can protect the best we can, and we are doing it. But there are certain things outside of our control, as this is the first time we are doing something like this.”

For this reason, Kitts said, “It’s important to give a little bit of grace to the board and the MDUSD staff members.”

Online learning since March 2020 posed enormous challenges for students. Many felt disconnected from their classes and the material they were learning about. Meanwhile, the return to classes has raised new concerns.

Anya Moraru, a senior at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek, said she felt hesitant and unsure about being back on campus. “There are a few COVID safety regulations being implemented, but not as many as there should be,” Moraru said.

“Students are required to wear masks, but the school doesn’t mandate or supervise social distancing during break times, as everyone is constantly crowded together.”

Moraru said she doesn’t feel very safe at school due to the full capacity of the classrooms, and thinks that every school should offer students the option for a hybrid schedule.

“Not everyone feels prepared for going to school on a full-time schedule while COVID guidelines aren’t being followed by everyone,” she said.

Moraru’s concerns are shared by many, as other students and families worry about the safety of being back inside a crowded school. While each school in the Mount Diablo district has implemented COVID safety guidelines, none can guarantee full protection from the virus.

“As for looking into the future, I’m taking it one day at a time,” said the teacher Lemak. “We’re just going to keep going, full steam ahead, until we are told we’ve got to switch gears.”