WALNUT CREEK— The 2022 season for women’s varsity waterpolo was nothing short of impressive and historic.
After ending regular season 18-10, the team blew their way through competition to land themselves a spot in the North Coast Section Division 1 Championships. The game ended successfully as the women’s team brought home the title after taking down Amador Valley on November 12, the final score 6-5. The win was not only a demonstration of the immense talent and drive, but it also meant their appearance in state playoffs for the first time in program history.
“It was really rewarding to know all our hard work—morning practices, tournaments, games, etc—had payed off,” said junior player Caroline Nicol. “The energy from all of us [making state] was remarkable. Even with some ups and downs, we always had a ‘next play’ attitude… which definitely a reason that won us our game.”
Women’s waterpolo moved on to play Clovis East at home on November 15, yet lost their first state playoff, 6-12.
Senior Kayla Morse reflected back on her last season with the team, “Winning NCS was a surreal experience… Our team grew so much since our first game and making program history was an amazing end to the season.”
“The looks on the faces of the players and their families, it doesn’t get better than that! I’ve rewatched the game probably ten times already and can’t help but smile every time we score,” said head coach Ryan Sevilla. Sevilla has coached water polo for ten years, eight of those years with Las Lomas, and is looking towards the future of the team, “We’re not going to get complacent – we’re incredibly proud of the 22-23 season, but this team has high hopes for next year and this is a big offseason for the players. I know they’re ready for the challenge that lies ahead and I’m excited to see how much we can improve by next August.”
Waterpolo will begin practices over the summer and the 2023-2024 season will begin during August.
Most United States colleges examine a variety of factors in order to choose which undergraduate students to admit. These factors often include grade point average, extracurricular activities and recognitions as well as one or more prompt-based essays. Additionally, for over half a century, nearly all United States schools have factored in or required standardized testing scores for undergraduate admissions. These tests are most commonly the SAT or ACT.
However, many have questioned the use of these tests. During the last two year’s undergraduate admissions, numerous colleges made the submission of standardized test scores optional, noting that testing dates have been disrupted and students’ abilities to attend the tests has been hindered by the pandemic. Now, the limited accessibility of standardized tests has resurfaced ongoing arguments regarding the tests’ ability to accurately measure mental aptitude as well as the equity or fairness of factoring them into college admissions.
In a poll sent to the Las Lomas student body regarding how the SAT and ACT tests should factor into four-year college admissions, 52.6% of respondents answered that the tests should be a factor in the admissions process but that they should be optional, and 44.7% of the respondents answered that the tests should not be required or a factor in the admissions process at all. The final 2.6% answered that the tests should be a requirement and a factor in four-year college admissions. Despite these numbers, students were still inclined to take the SAT or ACT, with 81.1% of respondents answering that they had taken or planned to take one of the tests with the remaining 18.9% answering that they did not plan on taking either of the tests but were still applying to a four-year college.
Las Lomas counselor Michael Constantin offered some of his thoughts on the value of the SAT and ACT tests: “I believe SAT and ACT do hold some value in indicating one’s preparedness for college. It can also act as a marker on a person’s ability to perform on standardized tests. However, there has been a lot of rightful talk on how equitable these types of tests truly are.” When asked about how these tests should factor into admissions and how four-year colleges should make admissions decisions, Constantin stated that, “I do like the fact that beyond grades and tests, colleges are looking for other attributes like extra-curricular activities (sports, clubs, volunteer work, etc.) and also using personal essays to understand more about the human side of potential students . . . I think giving students ways to share who they are and what they can bring to their potential school is very important.”
Additionally, Las Lomas students responded to similar questions regarding the value of the SAT and ACT and how they factor into college admissions. Sophomore Ellery Brownlee stated, “The SATs and ACTs test for academic smarts, whereas there are a lot of different ways that you can be smart, such as emotionally, socially, etc. It also does not factor in the stresses and even panic that comes along with taking a huge test . . . This can result in scoring lower test scores. It also doesn’t really take into account developmental and academic differences, such as ADHD, anxiety, or really being neurodivergent in any way.”
When asked whether the SAT or ACT are effective indicators of mental aptitude, senior Eric Du stated, “They are not necessarily an effective indicator of intelligence, they can be an indicator of how persistent one is.” He went on to state, “They should not play the primary role in admissions decisions, but should still play a role. Any objective standard can be a useful benchmark for comparing different students . . . [colleges] should admit applicants from a holistic standpoint: just like most colleges are doing now, factoring many different aspects of the student.”
Senior Ayden Stevens wrote that there should be an alternative to the tests: “I much prefer large research papers and believe they are a better way to not only show someone’s understanding or skill in a topic but to get actual insight on the writer. A test does not show any individuality which is ridiculous considering individuality should be a principal factor in college admissions.”
While debate over the impartiality of standardized testing continues, it is up to individual colleges and college systems to determine how to factor standardized tests into college admissions. The University of California system are some of the most sought-after schools to abandon the SAT and ACT, voting not to factor the tests into admissions decisions this year after pressure from a 2019 lawsuit, the settlement of which reaffirmed the school system’s decision last May by preventing it from using the scores when deciding who to admit.
Mr. Constantin email interview
Here are some of my thoughts:
1. I believe SAT and ACT do hold some value in indicating one’s preparedness for college. It can also act as a marker on a person’s ability to perform on standardized tests. However, there has been a lot of rightful talk on how equitable these types of tests truly are. I think there needs to be continued conversation around this.
2. As you may know CSU and UC applications are currently not using these tests in determining acceptance. I believe over 2/3 of colleges are making reporting scores optional. I do like the fact that beyond grades and tests, colleges are looking for other attributes like extra-curricular activities (sports, clubs, volunteer work, etc) and also using personal essays to understand more about the human side of potential student. I also feel this needs to be examined as well for equity.
3. I think grades are always going to be used in determining potential students. I think giving students ways to share who they are and what they can bring to their potential school is very important.
Maybe we also need to think more outside the box to determining who or who may not be accepted into a college. I am open to ideas as long as we look at it through a lens of equity and fairness.
After eating a hefty Thanksgiving dinner, it was time to get ready for a major shopping spree. The local Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Macy’s and every other major chain store was surrounded by outrageous lines of merchandise-hungry customers. On the extreme end, people would camp out in lines hours before. Las Lomas senior Tiffany Tsan said, “I remember waking up early in the morning and feeling so excited to get to the shops first. I would look forward to all the shops I had in mind and the shops I would visit with my family. This year though, I plan to online shop and check out stores that I wouldn’t usually shop at.”Nowadays, the excitement around Black Friday shopping has diminished, and the lines containing hoards of people are not as occurrent. Retailers see Black Friday as the start of the holiday shopping season—when profit is at its peak.
Some of the top products shopped for are TVs, household appliances, toys, tablets, laptops, gaming consoles, video games and clothing. 100 million customers shopped online during Black Friday 2020, setting a record-breaking year for the online form of shopping. Black Friday online shopping increased by 8% compared to the previous year (2019). In comparison, there were 58.7 million in-person shoppers on Black Friday—dropping by 37% compared to last year. From 2017 to 2020, online shopping profit has increased by 78.86%. With an increasing trend in online shopping and a decreasing trend in in-person shopping, there will likely be a continued pattern into Black Friday 2021.
Before the pandemic, the global economy experienced issues in various ways: tariffs, supplies, workers, consumer demand and transportation of goods. This year, there are shortages of containers, shipping rates have increased and international ports developed congestion and created a ripple effect on the distribution of merchandise. There have been challenges receiving key manufacturing components, and exporters face difficulty booking shipping vessels and getting containers. Shipping containers are essential for international trade. They are used to transport goods and dry bulk from one hub to another. Prices for containers have increased due to displacement and post-quarantine jump in demand. The supply and demand chain has broken from issues occurring in each part of the system.With the holidays approaching, there is an imminent increase in demand. This massive rise in demand may lead to further damage to the already troublesome chain. There will likely be high shipping costs and delivery delays during the 2021 holiday season.
This year in Walnut Creek, there will be people shopping around downtown and visiting the local Target. Las Lomas senior Carter Alumno said, “Every Black Friday my family and I would go to Target at midnight and buy a bunch of random stuff, then later we would go to the mall or downtown and buy clothes. This year I plan to shop both online and in person.” Although there will still be in-person shoppers, a greater proportion will be purchasing items from their Black Friday lists online. Las Lomas junior Madeline Dell said, “Since many websites do a Black Friday or Cyber Monday weekend, I’ll definitely be looking for stuff to buy, especially clothes from stores I wouldn’t usually spend money on. I also just like to window shop online and see if I can find any cool things on sale.” Amazon vans, United States Postal Service trucks, UPS trucks, and other transportation vehicles will be prevalent more than ever with the growth in online activity. Though the method of shopping has changed, the mentality is the same: get the best deal possible to save money.
There was an increase in online shopping activity during quarantine, and post-quarantine the increase has continued. It is expected to amplify during Black Friday. With people adjusting to an online world during a time of lockdown, the habits and methods people have adopted during the pandemic have proceeded into post-quarantine. The online shopping method has grown in popularity due to the convenience it offers. This year, people can see a great shift in the ways the people shop and are noticing the issues created. The supply chain crisis will affect millions of people and will be noticed during the holiday season.
Democrat Gavin Newsom survived the September 14th recall election and will remain in the office of Governor of California. The result did not come as a surprise in the deep blue state, which voted for current President Biden over former President Trump last year by a margin of 29.2% of voters.
For a recall election to occur in California, an equivalent to 12% of the total voters in the last gubernatorial (Governor) election must sign a recall petition. The recall supporters had 160 days to obtain the signatures. A total of 1,719,900 signatures were collected, far more than the 1,495,970 required.
There have been multiple attempts to recall Newsom ever since his inauguration in 2019, but these attempts were futile. Nevertheless, a surge in support for a recall came during the pandemic, mainly due to anger over COVID-19 restrictions such as mask mandates. The final nail in the coffin came when Newsom attended a birthday dinner at the French Laundry, an exquisite five-star restaurant in Napa, during November 2020, breaking his state’s then-COVID-19 restrictions.
The recall ballot featured two questions: should Gavin Newsom be recalled as Governor of California? Furthermore, if he is, who should replace him? The first question only had “Yes” and “No” options. However, the latter had an astonishing 46 candidates on the ballot, nearly all Republicans.
The only other recall election of a Governor in California occurred in 2003 when former Governor Gray Davis was successfully recalled from office and replaced by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The only two other attempted recalls of Governors in the United States occurred in 1921 and 2012, in North Dakota and Wisconsin respectively.
The Newsom campaign referred to the election as the “Republican Recall,” backed by “a partisan, Republican coalition of national Republicans, anti-vaxxers, Q-Anon conspiracy theorists and anti-immigrant Trump supporters.” Moreover, the campaign ran advertisements featuring democratic politicians such as Senators Bernie Sanders plus Elizabeth Warren and even former President Barack Obama to encourage the Democratic base to vote.
Newsom’s most notable opponent was conservative radio host, Republican Larry Elder. Elder ran on ending COVID-19 restrictions, cutting taxes, school choice and other conservative policies. Elder consistently led in every single poll since his campaign announcement as a replacement candidate on July 12th. Due to the Democratic supermajority in the state senate and assembly, it would be effectively impossible for Elder to pass any legislation. However, the Governor’s responsibility to appoint replacements to the United States Senate in the event of a resignation or death became the centerpiece of the race, due to the rumored deteriorating health of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat. If Elder appointed a Republican in her place, the senate majority would flip from Democrat to Republican, effectively ending President Biden’s legislative agenda.
“I want to focus on what we said ‘yes’ to as a state. We said ‘yes’ to science. We said ‘yes’ to vaccines. We said ‘yes’ to ending this pandemic. We said ‘yes’ to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression. We said ‘yes’ to women’s fundamental, constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body and her fate and future. We said ‘yes’ to diversity. We said ‘yes’ to inclusion. We said ‘yes’ to pluralism. We said ‘yes’ to all those things that we hold dear as Californians,” said Newsom during his election night victory speech.
“I’m very pleased to see that the election to recall Governor Newsom failed. Recalls should be used for reasons that include crimes or significant ethical improprieties. The use of the recall because the minority party wants their own candidate, is an abuse of the recall system. This was the sixth recall attempt in Governor Newsom’s two and a half years and the only one to come to the ballot because the recall petitions were allowed to circulate for an additional 4 months. It was a serious waste of time and hundreds of millions of our tax dollars,” said Walnut Creek Mayor Kevin Wilk in a statement to The Page.
Senior Moxie Marsh was not surprised by the results, saying, “…I didn’t really expect Elder to win, but also it’s Newsom so I didn’t weep with joy.” Marsh also expressed her dissatisfaction with Newsom: “He’s awful and compels people to be complacent with the status quo but at least he kind of tried sometimes to put peoples lives above profits…he could focus on supporting people in California with things like better and more affordable housing and actually listening to and supporting the needs of people instead of just doing what will look good for him in a photo or on paper and actually dedicating effort to make California a better place [and] not just look better on paper.”
In what has become a seasonal norm for a climate change-stricken California, dry conditions have led to increasingly pervasive wildfires and smoke. Driven by the almost one million acre Dixie fire and the almost 250 thousand acre Caldor fire (as of September 8), darkened skies continue to settle over the Bay Area. While inconvenient, it is possible to limit exposure to smoke, something that can lead to improved long-term health.
In order to quantify and track air quality, the National Weather Service, a government organization, uses an air quality index (AQI) system. The system assigns different tiers based on the AQI: good (0-50 AQI), moderate (51-100), unhealthy to sensitive groups (101-150), unhealthy (151-200), very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (300 or more). According to the National Weather Service, the AQI is calculated using measurements for “groundlevel ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide,” and is measured against the Environmental Protection Agency’s national standards.
Long-term exposure to wildfire smoke can have adverse impacts on one’s health. According to Brittany Paris, a Contra Costa County Department of Health representative, “exposure to smoky air can make people feel unwell with coughing, a scratchy throat and headaches. It can also irritate residents’ lungs and sinuses.” The California Department of Public Health reinforced this concept, explaining that wildfire smoke can contain “respiratory irritants, and when inhaled deeply, can affect the lungs and the heart. Exposure to high concentrations of [smoke] can cause persistent cough, runny nose, phlegm [excess mucus in the respiratory tract], wheezing, and difficulty breathing.” Las Lomas Senior Nico Wells has also been affected by wildfire smoke, saying that in addition to causing the cancellations of cross country practices, “it has given me migraines [and] made it harder to breathe.”
Both sources acknowledge that these effects can be particularly dangerous for those with preexisting or cardiovascular conditions; Paris noted that “older adults, pregnant women, and people who have asthma or lung or heart disease” are at particular risk. Exposure for only days or weeks can have few apparent effects. However, long-term exposure to smoke is even associated with negative effects on the health of otherwise healthy people. Contra Costa County recommends that citizens “limit their exposure when air quality is poor by staying inside when possible… limit strenuous outdoor activity or exercise–anything that makes you take more breaths or breathe deeper.” Finally, those who smoke cigarettes are at increased risk due to their increased susceptibility to cardiovascular ailments and increased particulate in their homes from smoking.
An August 13 Harvard School of Public Health study of the relationship between cases of COVID-19 and air particulate in wildfire smoke found an “11.7% increase in COVID-19 cases, and an 8.4% increase in COVID-19 deaths” for each increase of 10 micrograms of particulate less than 2.5 micrometers in width over 28 consecutive days. These measurements refer to tiny particles, sometimes found in wildfire smoke, that are extremely difficult to filter. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also has information on navigating wildfires and their smoke during the pandemic, explaining the importance of planning ahead, stocking up on critical supplies and avoiding smoke whenever possible, particularly when exercising. The CDC also detailed the differences in symptoms of COVID-19 and smoke inhalation: common symptoms between the two include “dry cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing,” whereas symptoms associated with COVID-19 include “fever or chills, muscle or body aches and diarrhea.” Individuals reporting the latter symptoms should contact their healthcare provider for guidance regarding possible COVID-19 infection.
The county recommends that residents take precautions to avoid exposure to wildfire smoke, such as staying indoors whenever possible, wearing N95 masks and purchasing indoor air filtration systems. The recurring theme among public health officials is staying indoors “with the doors and windows closed [which] can usually reduce exposure to air pollution by at least a third or more” per the California Department of Public Health. If possible, residents should try to avoid “smoking cigarettes, using gas, propane and wood-burning stoves and furnaces, spraying aerosol products, frying or broiling meat, burning candles and incense, and vacuuming,” during high smoke days. Using air filtration devices – including HVAC such as air conditioning with proper and unexpired filters – can also be a valuable tool in reducing the amount of particulate matter in one’s home.
As the fire season continues to grow in duration, the need for strategies to ward off the long-term effects of smoke inhalation becomes greater. The key takeaway from public health officials is to stay inside when the concentration of smoke becomes dangerous and to stay outside only when safe. Also important is following the advice of local, state and national departments of health and any advice from reputable healthcare providers.
Throughout the year, the Wellness Center has held various webinars and talks, and offered opportunities for students to access mental health resources for students on and off campus. Some events take place on Zoom or there are sign-ups for confidential counseling during lunch. These activities are promoted on the school website and in the weekly email sent out by Principal Benson.
Wellness Coordinator Amelia Whalen explained that through these opportunities, students can connect through “mindfulness workshops, cooking classes, and other activities.” The Wellness Center is working hard to provide a safe space for student support, counseling, and mental health education.
Sophomore Grayson Wylie mentioned that although he did not participate in any wellness activities, “From the way it has been advertised it seems as though it is well-coordinated and easily accessible.”
Others, however, find themselves struggling more. A Las Lomas student, wishing to remain anonymous, said that “it made everything worse” once they were sent to the hospital to receive further help apart from the wellness center.
In a survey of eight students, seven agreed that the activities are helpful for those who participate. Six agreed that planning could be better with more promotion on social media such as Instagram and via the leadership class. One student added, “There could either be more events or better advertising. From my perspective, the majority of the student body is unaware of the opportunities for wellness activities.” In the survey, many other students also explained that they have not heard a lot about these activities, and did not know events were planned for the student body.
During the year, the Wellness Center has served more than 250 students so far, and is always available to support all students in times of need. If you are in need of counseling or mental health resources, visit the Las Lomas Wellness Center on the school’s homepage and fill out a google form through Ms. Whalen.
After a year of online learning, Las Lomas opened up to students and staff on Tuesday, March 16, as part of the newly instituted hybrid schedule. Students were divided into three cohorts: cohorts A and B, which meet up in school on Tuesday and Thursday and Wednesday and Friday, respectively, and cohort C, which is an entirely distance-learning group of students that opted out of in-person learning entirely. This change in attendance also came with a new layout of periods: periods 1, 2, 3 and 7 take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, and periods 4, 5, 6 and 0 take place on Thursday and Friday. School now starts at 8:30, pauses in the middle for an 80-minute lunch and mandatory Academy break during which in-person attendees can go to Academy with their teachers, and ends at 3:20 on Tuesday and Wednesday for those with a 7th period and 1:55 for those whose for those with no 7th period on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and those with a 6th period on Thursdays and Fridays. These changes come following a decrease of COVID-19 cases in Contra Costa County, which caused the hazard level of the coronavirus to decrease from the purple tier to the red. Student opinions on this shift to hybrid are currently mixed.
According to a survey of 30 Las Lomas students, 22 of which returned to campus as part of cohort A or B, 14 of those that returned to campus (63.6%) prefer the hybrid model. Five of those that are part of cohort A or B (22.7%) prefer attending school through Zoom, and the remaining three (13.6%) don’t have a preference.
Sophomore Tyler Mills, who returned to campus for the hybrid model, commented, “I’m probably going to switch back to Zoom, right now there’s no added benefit of being in class rather than Zoom, it’s just colder, more tiring and no academic benefits come with it.”
By contrast, Sophomore Bogdan Yaremenko supports hybrid, saying, “Hybrid may be a hassle for the teachers, but I think it is very much worth it; I love coming back on campus and the fact that it’s only two days each week just makes it feel more special.”
While the majority of those enrolled in hybrid learning like it, the earlier start times are presenting complications to students. 19 of 30 (63.3%) of those that responded to the survey said that they had not been able to get enough sleep to properly adjust to the earlier start times, which are 30 minutes earlier on Tuesday and Thursday and 90 minutes earlier on Wednesday and Friday than they were previously.
Some students are also dissatisfied with the fact that their teachers’ attentions are split: five respondents (16.7%) felt that in-person students are getting a disproportionate amount of attention, while eight respondents (26.7%) felt that online students were getting a disproportionate amount of attention. A slight majority of survey-takers, 17 (56.7%), thought that both groups were getting the amount of attention they needed.
Lastly, when asked whether they thought students and faculty were doing an effective job of following and enforcing the COVID-19 safety rules and regulations, 12 of the 22 that returned to campus (54.6%) answered that campus members were doing an effective job, nine (40.9%) answered that they are doing a slightly effective job, and the final respondent (4.5%) answered that campus members are doing an ineffective job of following and enforcing these rules.
One anonymous sophomore reflected on the pros and cons of distance learning: “While I enjoy distanced learning, I can also recognize the many flaws it has. As much fun as it has been waking up minutes before school starts, and eating whatever I have at home during lunch, it’s not a sustainable way of teaching. While I have done well, many people require a better environment for learning than the same room all day.”
Overall, a majority of Las Lomas students have received the hybrid model well, except that most students find it difficult to get the proper amount of sleep to adjust to the new schedule. It may be the impetus of the administration to make in-person learning more appealing in general, hybrid or not, as many students simply prefer the online learning model and may find it jarring or dismaying to return to campus for the 2021-2022 school year. For now, the best that can be done is to deal with the current problems and hope something better lies for next year. As senior Ani Jamgotchian puts it, “I think the hybrid model has been a success for those who returned and I hope that next year will be better for the underclassmen.”
When students in the Acalanes Union High District began to go back to school in-person for hybrid instruction, the district mandated many specific policies in order to ensure that students would be safe at school. Some of the measures include daily COVID-19 prescreening, weekly testing for staff, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), physical distancing, and increased school cleaning and student hygiene, among other measures. The Page sought to find the degree to which students have followed these guidelines through schoolwide surveys and a combination of faculty and student interviews.
According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), all schools must ensure that students “wear face coverings at all times, while at school.” The department does leave certain exemptions to the rule, an example being those who cannot wear masks for medical reasons and students while eating and drinking, although they must be at least six feet apart. Finally, “In order to comply with this guidance, schools must exclude students from campus if they [do not wear a mask and] are not exempt from wearing a face covering under CDPH guidelines.” The school is to offer masks to those who forget and provide educational opportunities to those who are excluded from in-person instruction as a result of failing to wear masks.
“I am glad I went back to school… and I think the risk of COVID-19 is low,” said Joseph Gillett, a Las Lomas junior and student who returned to school for in-person instruction. Gillett expressed positivity towards the mask situation, saying, “students and staff wear masks at all times except when eating or drinking at lunch. I have not seen anyone neglecting to wear a mask in the hallways or in a classroom.” While he commended the messaging from the school in regards to the protocols, Gillett did say that other guidelines were not as strictly followed: “I frequently see students failing to social distance and follow the arrows in the hallways.”
Coryell McDonough, a junior at Las Lomas, pointed out that following the yellow traffic arrows in the hallways is the safety protocol he believes is hardest to follow. “It’s… harder to encourage students to follow the arrows in the hallways and keep a distance,” McDonough said. “Sometimes I’m late to a class, or the only way to get to a class is to go the ‘wrong way.’ ”
In a survey sent out by The Page, students were asked to give the school a “grade” in how safe they felt going back to school. The survey was anonymous unless the student left their name for The Page to contact them, so we could not reach out to the respondents for greater detail. Out of the 24 responses from students that had gone back to hybrid, six students gave the school an “A,” 15 students gave the school a “B” and two students gave the school a “C.”
When asked how they’d rate how well the the administration has done ensuring that all students, faculty and staff were following the safety protocol guidelines, two students responded that they thought the school had done “Very well,” 11 students responded with “Well,” nine students responded with “Fair” and one student said that they thought that the school had done “Very poor.”
McDonough, one of the students that had left his name in the survey to be interviewed further, said, “I have not seen [any] students failing to wear a mask. Maybe during lunch, I’ve seen one or two people not wearing a mask even if they weren’t eating… Other than [one teacher], all staff have been wearing their masks.”
“I think overall, we have really high compliance with mask wearing. Really, the only times that I think we are needing to remind students about the rules is in that transition time around lunch,” said Las Lomas Principal Tiffany Benson. Benson also addressed student concerns about social distancing, by explaining that the density of students was lower than the 76 percent of students that were expected to return to hybrid (the number was closer to 50 percent split between two cohorts). Benson also pointed to changes the administration had made to facilitate better adherence to social distancing requirements: “We actually assigned specific campus supervisors and teachers on lunchtime supervision to specific areas that they will work every single day, so that they have more ownership of a single area.” Benson also talked about administration focusing on certain “high congestion areas” and tailoring its approach to one of reminding students to wear masks, as opposed to punishment, as there have been no cases of students maliciously failing to wear masks. In terms of communicating with students, Benson believes that the success seen so far lies in a “community wide approach,” where “whether you walk into this classroom or that classroom, you’re going to have the same protocols.”
As the United States reaches its first anniversary of COVID-19 lockdowns that initially began during March 2020, vaccine rollout has begun, and Contra Costa County cases are on a steady decline. Schools are beginning to reopen with guidelines, installations, and safety measures in place to help prevent the spread of the virus.
According to Contra Costa Health Services, on March 7, there were an average of 8.0 new cases per 100,000 residents in Contra Costa County. That is down from 18.9 cases per 100,000 on February 7 and 56.5 per 100,000 on January 7. The testing positivity rate has decreased as well, from a 4.7% 7-day average from January 31 to February 6 to 2.3% from February 28 to March 6.
Contra Costa Health Services have begun offering vaccines to the most important and highest-risk groups. According to their website, over 450,000 vaccine doses have been delivered to Contra Costa County residents, with just above 150,000 residents fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Currently, Contra Costa is in Phase 1B of its vaccine rollout, which means that healthcare workers, residents and employees at long-term care facilities, people above the age of 65, and frontline essential workers all qualify to receive the vaccine. According to Danville’s website, Contra Costa’s next tier will include people ages 16 through 64 with high-risk health conditions, followed by phase 2, all people that weren’t included in the previous phases. Although the vaccine is highly effective, it is still unclear to experts whether it is safe not to wear a face-covering after getting fully vaccinated, so it is recommended to do so to mitigate the spread and protect oneself.
Besides getting the vaccine directly through Contra Costa Health Services, different pharmacies, healthcare systems, and providers have different eligibility requirements to schedule an appointment and receive the vaccine, which can be found on the Contra Costa Health Services official website. There are no walk-up style services available in Contra Costa County. An appointment is required to receive a vaccine at this point. While the vaccine doses will not cost anything, providers of vaccinations might charge an administration fee that can be billed to insurance.
Las Lomas has shifted from a fully remote learning model to a hybrid model with a new schedule. Following successful predictions by the administration that case rates would lower, Contra Costa dipped below the purple tier into the red tier, and students returned to Las Lomas on March 16. This is reflective of similar plans from Walnut Creek Intermediate that aimed to get 6th graders back on campus by March 15 no matter what, as well as 7th and 8th graders if the county entered the red tier (as state guidance would prevent 7-12th graders from returning otherwise). Elementary schools in the Walnut Creek School District have already seen many of their students return with safety measures in place, even before March 15.
After nearly a year of distance learning, the Walnut Creek School District elementary schools began hybrid learning on February 16 for Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten and February 23 for grades 1-5. The district has had success and teachers are reporting positively.
Students who are doing hybrid learning have been going to school every weekday except Wednesday, where they are assigned asynchronous work. School begins at 8:15 and ends at 10:55 for students in hybrid.
The students follow protocols that are similar to their high school counterparts. These protocols include the following: students must wear a face mask for the entire school day, students must follow certain pathways to navigate the school campus, students must maintain social distancing of at least six feet, and students must complete daily symptom checks and will not be allowed at school if they show any.
For student drop off and pick-up, parents may not leave their vehicle at any point and students must go to their classrooms immediately. Students who arrive before 8:05 are not allowed to leave their car until 8:05 in order to keep students organized.
Recess is still a part of the school day, but with modifications. The school staggers recess times between classes and each class has a designated area in the playground. Students must wash their hands before and after recess. Students are also allowed to eat snacks during recess as long as they are six feet apart.
Lunch time has been completely cut from the school day since the school day ends early; however, the school district provides a free bagged lunch for all students when the school day ends. The school also provides free breakfast for the following day after school. Students who are in remote learning can also receive free breakfast and lunch for the week at WCI on mMondays and tThursdays.
In the classroom, teachers are encouraged to keep windows and doors opened as much as possible to keep the air fresh. Teachers are also allowed to use outdoor learning spaces if their current lesson allows for it. Teachers are responsible for limiting the sharing of classroom supplies such as pencils, crayons, etc,. and for making sure hand sanitizer is available in the classroom. Teachers also have an air purifier to use in their classrooms. Desks are also spread apart to maintain six feet of distance.
Students who did not opt-in for hybrid still have zZoom sessions with their teachers from 12:00 to 2:40.
Janelle Stabb, a 3rd-grade teacher at Indian Valley, said, “Hybrid is going better than I expected, being able to interact in person with students definitely brings back the joy of learning and teaching. I feel the students are more engaged during in-person learning and there are way less distractions as they are at school and not home.” Stabb also commented on the differences between hybrid and normal learning: “The major differences are having 14 students rather than 24. I have been doing flexible seating in my classroom for the past five years and now each student is at their own desk, spaced six feet apart from other desks, with a desk shield on their desks. Students are not allowed to freely roam the classroom, [and] all their supplies have to be at their own desk. I have to maintain six feet from students throughout the day as well. This is a huge difference as I can not go and help or sit with struggling students or students with questions.”
Stabb said that students who are in a hybrid are clearly excited to be back in school: “It is a lot better for the in person students. It is definitely a bit of reality being back in the classroom and I can see that some students haven’t been pushed as hard being at home or held accountable for their work. Their energy and enthusiasm has been awesome. The students are also doing better than expected with all the social distancing rules and new procedures in place.”