The Kenwood Academy administration is confident the school can re-open its classroom doors for the first time in 13 months, as CPS prepared to bring back high school students on April 19.
More than 800 students are expected to return to Kenwood; 400 will come back on Monday and Tuesday and the other half will come on Thursday and Friday, with a block schedule of classes running all four days. Wednesdays will be a deep-cleaning day at the school itself with 50-minute classes running virtually for all students.
Ahead of the students' return, Kenwood teachers have some professional development planned for teaching with the hybrid model. Kenwood principal Karen Calloway said she wants to support her teachers with academic as well as emotional resources.
"Some of them haven't been in the building since March," she said, "and I recognize that this is probably a little scary for some of them, and for students as well. It's really important in my opinion that we move slowly, we ease into it, and we really support how people feel."
As Assistant Principal Jaya Miller pointed out, students at home will basically be able to watch the teacher teaching from the classroom while the students in school will still have their laptops.
"It seems like a heavy burden for simultaneous teaching, but between the cameras and the laptops, students will be able to get the support of being in person, but they'll be doing a lot of the work online," she said.
Beyond that, the school has 15 hand-washing stations in the hallways and has done air-quality testing throughout the building. Students can eat lunch in other parts of the building beyond the cafeteria, or outside. Desks have been spaced out in the classroom, and students have to pass temperature checks and fill out health screeners before coming every morning.
Calloway said "pretty much" the whole main Kenwood office has been vaccinated. She is hearing discussions among her teachers and even some students, though she is unsure how many of them have gotten their shots. At some point, she would consider having a vaccine drive — "I know our students would be all over it" — but has nothing planned at the present.
"I think that we're moving in the right direction as it relates to vaccinations, which really helps the confidence, because the vaccine is liberating," she said. "At least it has been for me." But old hat safety measures like social distancing, masking and face-shields for teachers will be in full force, too.
Calloway conceives of this last quarter as a "soft opening" and practice for the next academic year, as she expects all the students to come back next fall.
"I think it's a great opportunity for us as administrators to really get our practices in place for a smaller group of students," she said. "My goal would be to improve student morale and social-emotional support for students. Really increasing the amounts of engagement that they have ultimately should build a better student."
She said students "are doing the best they can, considering the situation that they're in." She expects that more face-to-face contact with teachers and peers will improve academic outcomes, though she does think that the profound disruption the pandemic has caused will have made her students more resilient.
"We call ourselves 'pandemic principals.' That's something that no one else has had, to figure out how to make an opportunity — though I don't feel like it's an opportunity — out of a crisis," she said. "It does build a skillset of being able to navigate through challenging times. We really are tech-savvy now, in different ways to do school. That is what has come out of this, and that's what will come out of this for students as well."
With an enrollment at just over 2,000 students, more than 40% of Kenwood Academy's students have elected to come back to the building — higher than at most district elementary schools. Calloway ascribed this to her students' love of the school.
"It's a place that feels good; we want it to be that way. This is their home, and school should feel good for students, and they should enjoy it," she said. "The ones who were really familiar with the way Kenwood operates really missed that. The newer students who did not have an experience to be in school, they want to experience that."