By: EMMA CHASTAIN
Benicia Unified School District’s one-hundredth day of school has come and gone, as have the plans for the potential 3rd-quarter—this is shown as “mid-term” on the BHS calendar and ends on March 19th— reopening of schools. However, Ms. Kleinschmidt closed the February Principal’s Letter with the projection, “BHS anticipates returning to school in-person in August 2021 with our regular 6 period schedule.” Regardless of how you might feel about our classic six-period-six-homework-assignment everyday lifestyle coming back, the assurance is something that we can all rest easy with.
The Biden administration too has made some hefty, yet hope-inspiring promises in all fields of concern; education is no exception. What will they do to help us towards the path of reopening schools, or better still, towards the enhancement of students’ school experiences?
On January 21st, Joe Biden gave an executive order for “Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers”. Dr. Miguel A. Cardona, the president’s nominee for Secretary of Education—someone with an actual background in teaching public school no less— would be responsible for leading many educational endeavors of the administration. The order addresses many concerns held by teachers, students, and parents alike.
The goal, laid out in the order, was essentially to promise “evidence-based guidance” and support, to schools, regardless of their state, local, tribal, or territorial statuses, for reopening as safely as possible. This support —for physical safety— may include funding or procedure for “cleaning, masking, proper ventilation, and testing,” or something pertaining to the mental well being of students, families, and teachers, with “trauma-informed care, behavioral and mental health support, and family support, as appropriate;” This, on such a grand scale as around 130,930 schools (National Center for Education Statistics) in the U.S., is a big step forward.
Locally, normalcy is still desperately working towards being substituted. Many of these efforts —highlighted in BHS’s February newsletter— are student-run and or facilitated. Seeing that it is February, Black History Month, many of the events this month go towards observing it. The Black Student Union (BSU), typically, would host and organize in-person events. However, they have adapted their events for an online setting, to continue the education of the community and for the celebration of history. This year’s events include social media postings of “positive contributions of Black people all across the globe”, listening to music highlighting Black artists, and guest speakers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). One of the events of every week (Fridays) is Benicia High School’s first-ever BHS Reads event, of the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Another step towards normal, at least for track runners, swimmers, tennis players, and golfers is the allowance of purple-tier sports. The lifting of the Stay at Home order (Jan. 15th) has led to the classification of sports to their respective tiers. Next up after purple-tier sports, is red-tiered softball and baseball. Although the seasons will be shorter, sports are an outlet for some athletes that have not been available since last school year.
The Biden administration’s efforts towards the mental wellness of students are focusing on bringing resources to all who have been affected, in the form of a proposed 130 billion dollar plan to support elementary, middle, and high schools around the country. This plan could increase the aid for more marginalized students, who have been disproportionately affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic, while also going towards all schools in need; in terms of promoting resources for students to return in-person with both healthy bodies and minds.
BHS has made efforts beyond those of simply having school counselors. Not to say that our counselors alone could not be helpful mental wellness resources, but the ratio of resources to students would not be sufficient. The BHS Virtual Wellness Center “is now available online 24 hours a day to access tools to manage emotions, resources for seeking assistance, and ways to connect with staff at BHS and other Benicia schools.” (as announced in the February newsletter). Calming strategies like guided meditations and yoga, as well as hotline information, are all consolidated in the Wellness Center.
Parent workshops too—under: “Social-Emotional Learning: Parent Workshops” in the newsletter—are available for parents willing or able to learn in a new way how to help their student, and learn what they might be going through, from a different perspective.
Although the anticipation of school-funding from the new administration is motivating, the efforts made by the students, staff, and Benicia organizations should not fly under the radar as some kind of placeholder that you may or may not want to take advantage of. While waiting for and expecting some necessary, large scale action, look to local action first, and the contributions that have been made already.