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First Day Of School For Sweetwater School District, New Year Starts Online

Sweetwater Union High School in National City on Aug. 3, 2020.

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: Sweetwater Union High School in National City on Aug. 3, 2020.

Sweetwater Union High School District welcomed students back to virtual classrooms on Monday, becoming the first district in San Diego County to start the new school year under the pandemic.

The typical school day will consist of three class periods with a break for lunch. Each period will be up to 45 minutes of live video instruction by teachers and up to one hour of independent work. Teachers will grade assignments and require attendance. While the district has spent the summer training its teachers in online teaching, parents are still concerned.

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

“I know the whole social aspect of being at school is helpful,” said Blanca Wines, who has three children in the district. “They need that interaction with their classmates. How are they going to incorporate that into learning this semester?”

Like many parents in the Sweetwater Union High School District, Wines was disappointed by the quality of education offered by distance learning when schools first shut down in the spring. Her children had trouble focusing at home and lacked motivation because they were not graded during that period.

“Because the teachers already went through it last semester, I hope they really bringing their A-game this time,” Wines said.

RELATED: Sweetwater Superintendent Placed On Paid Leave As School Board Finalizes 223 Layoffs

Starting Monday, teachers will grade assignments and require attendance, which parents and teachers hope will keep students invested in their school work.

“In the springtime, it was more of an enrichment practice as far as academics,” said District Spokesman Manny Rubio. “There’s a lot of work that’s been done in the last few months to get to this point.”

Rubio said the school district has made sure all students have the devices they need for online learning. The district is continuing to distribute hotspots for students who need an internet connection.

But Michelle Mardahl, a biology teacher at Bonita Vista High School in Chula Vista, is worried about developing a relationship with her students.

RELATED: San Diego County School Districts Taking Different Approaches On Reopening

When the pandemic first shut down schools, teachers had the benefit of already knowing their students. Mardahl said starting a new school year online will be much more challenging.

“In March, I was just missing a little bit of curriculum, and I could fill in the gaps,” she said. “This is like, oh my gosh, we’re starting from scratch.”

Despite the academic rigor, the district will continue being flexible towards the needs of students who might be sharing rooms, devices or internet bandwidth with siblings.

“We’re recognizing things that are happening in people’s lives at home,” Rubio said. “Before students start to slip, we’ll be able to provide support.”

The district will conduct distance learning at least until Oct. 2. School sites could reopen after that date depending on the spread of COVID-19. Rubio said the district will continue to serve meals to students whether or not schools are open.

Despite the months of planning and preparation, Mardahl is daunted by the start of the new school year.

“I feel overwhelmed. I feel more nervous,” she said. "I have to plan this right so I can give students the experiences and the tools they need for the future.”

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Aired: August 3, 2020 | Transcript

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Photo of Joe Hong

Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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