While the Omicron variant raged through Chicago and across the world this past holiday season, Noble teams went to work to ensure students could return to school safely and continue learning in January. Starting this week, Noble Schools is now back on a full-day schedule at all our campuses after passing the peak of the Omicron surge here in Chicago and seeing a major decrease in cases across our schools.
This comes after many of our campuses spent the first few weeks of school this new year either fully remote in an “operative pause” because of a high number of cases at their campus or in a partial-day schedule to avoid time spent maskless during lunch.
HOW WE HANDLED OUR RETURN FROM WINTER BREAK
Throughout the pandemic, Noble Schools has been committed to making our school spaces as safe as possible for our students and staff. This meant taking action, leading up to and even through the holidays, to help mitigate the spread of COVID in our schools.
“The information (about the omicron surge) was compelling enough to suggest that we needed to take action before we left for the break if we were going to have any chance of positively influencing the outcome after the break,” said Mike Madden, our Chief Operating Officer.
So, that’s what we did, and we kept working to make our spaces safe even over the break.
We sent out 6,000 at-home COVID tests to our families. We bought 165,000 more surgical masks for our schools to prep for returning students and staff. We purchased more air purifiers so we would have at least one for every enclosed space on our campuses. We continued our 24/7 contact tracing service to make sure we could catch any cases before we returned.
>> Read more about our same-day contact tracing service here
While we already had robust cleaning and COVID testing systems in place, school teams also prepared by increasing our deep cleaning, sanitization, and in-school COVID testing even more.
When it became possible over the break that even all these measures might not be enough to return safely, our leadership team, led by CEO Constance Jones, held an emergency meeting on December 31 in the early morning. There, they made the decision to take an extra step to prevent transmission during lunchtime: Shorten the school day to avoid time spent maskless while eating until the surge abated.
It wasn’t the most ideal solution, Madden said, but it was the only thing leadership felt like they could do at the time to mitigate potential spread during lunch while cases remained high across the city. Our schools still remained open for the whole school day so students, who needed to, could stay safely.
WHY WE ARE SHIFTING BACK TO A FULL-DAY SCHEDULE
Now, Madden says, there is much less risk of transmission during lunch because cases are down. He also says leadership has come up with a new system to prevent transmission by making sure students are only spending 15 minutes unmasked at lunchtime. With the risk of transmission reduced, it became important for Noble Schools to move back to a full-day schedule.
“Minutes in class and school matter… we want our kids to be able to have an extraordinary, full, robust high school experience,” Madden says, “This means having the opportunity to do more than just simply move from class to class. To have the opportunity to be with their friends, to spend time with their teachers and advisors. They can’t do that on a limited schedule.”
HOW OUR STUDENTS AND FAMILIES FELT ABOUT OUR RETURN
Xamiya Walton, a sophomore at Butler College Prep, talked about how time in school is important to her.
“Being in school, you definitely get more of a high school experience, which is what I was looking for,” She said, “Having a shortened schedule is less time in classes, so it’s like, once you get into a class, you learn for like 20 minutes and then you leave… I wish there was more time in the classroom just because it does just fly by.”
Overall, though, Xamiya is just glad to be back in the school building, “I’m glad to be in person and I hope we can stay like this for the rest of the year and that it’ll get better.”
Noble parents appreciated the thoughtfulness, flexibility, and transparency of how Noble Schools handled the return to schools.
Maria Vargas is the mother of three, all of whom went to a Noble school. Her youngest, Brianna, is currently a sophomore at ITW David Speer Academy. Speer came back all-remote temporarily because of increased COVID cases at their campus but then switched to the partial-day schedule on January 10 once cases had gone down. Brianna was sad not to be back in person at the beginning of this year, but her mother appreciated Noble’s flexible approach.
“I’m okay with (Noble Schools) taking the initiative and actually being able to say ‘Let’s go virtual to decrease the possibility of them being exposed’ as compared to CPS who basically just made one big decision for everybody,” Vargas said, ”I know Noble was assessing the situation depending on the campus, cause not every campus went online. I do appreciate the flexibility that they’re able to evaluate what affects their specific campus and then just make those decisions.”
Another Noble parent at Baker College Prep, Felicia Suggs, said she felt like Baker really took parents’ concerns into consideration and communicated updates well.
“Ms. Arrigo (Baker’s principal) makes sure we know everything, and that’s the thing that I feel is the most important… I like the fact that when my back is turned, I know Baker is stepping up and is gonna be a place to help , especially with this COVID stuff,” Suggs said, “I think that they made the best decisions based off of what was actually happening and what we were actually concerned about.”
Baker was remote for a day before the holidays and for a week after the break ended but then was able to come back to the partial-day schedule.
Dulce Garduno, a parent at Muchin College Prep, really appreciated the opportunity for her son to be back in school safely.
“Esta es mi posición como mamá de un hijo. Estoy muy contenta de que él vaya todos los días a la escuela. Y que él sienta que no está pasando nada en el mundo. Quiero que él sienta que él puede ser las cosas a pesar de tener una máscara y distancia social,” Garduno said.
(“This is my position as a mother of an only child: I am very happy that he goes to school every day. And that he feels like nothing bad is happening in the world. I want him to feel like he can do things despite having a mask and having to social distance,” Garduno said)
“Ha sido muy difícil estos últimos dos años para mi hijo y para todos, pero regresar a la escuela tomando precauciones es muy bueno,” She said.
(“It’s been really hard these past two years for my son and everyone else, but going back to school with safety precautions is great,” She said)
WHAT A NOBLE PRINCIPAL SAYS ABOUT MOVING FORWARD
The principal of Johnson College Prep, Jonas Cleaves, says the partial-day schedule was a good balance during the surge. It allowed for both keeping in-person learning and giving staff, students, and families the time and space to take care of themselves, get tested, and stay healthy. However, Cleaves is confident in the COVID safety measures at his school for the full day and is glad to be back to a normal schedule because he sees how important time in school is to his students:
“I think all of us over the past two years have had to make really intentional adjustments to our lives to accommodate for some of the hazards or hurdles of COVID. With that said, I think the ones who have been impacted the most have certainly been our kids. Many of them don’t have the ability to choose where they live. Some of them have had to grow up really fast over the break. Many of them have had levels of hardship that they haven’t been able to share yet. And so, what school has become for many of them is almost like a sanctuary. It’s the one place that they know and believe that they are safe. It’s probably the most consistent thing in their life right now.”
Cleaves said they saw their biggest attendance yet this new year when they went back to full schedule this past Monday.
“They’re here. They wanna be here. They’re happy, they’re smiling, and, ya know, that’s all you can ask for,” Cleaves said.