Maui High School welcomes back staff, 650 students

Teachers glad to see students, feeling confident with vaccine

Maui High School biology teacher Nanna Lindberg describes how she uses an anatomical model named “Sheila” in her classroom Friday morning. All teachers and staff and about 650 students returned to campus this week, while about 1,400 students opted to continue learning from home. Maui High is one of the Maui schools to transition to a blended learning format that mixes both in-person and online instruction. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — For Maui High School Principal Jamie Yap, one of the fun parts of welcoming students back to school Monday was seeing all the lost freshmen wandering the campus as they searched for their classrooms.

This annual rite of passage doesn’t normally happen in the middle of February, but 2020-21 is far from a normal school year. Maui High is one of many Maui schools to transition to a blended learning format that mixes both in-person and online instruction.

Yap said Wednesday that all of the school’s teachers and staff were back on campus. The high school had 1,400 students opt to learn at home and 650 return to school.

Returning students have been split into four groups. Each group has two days on campus and then six off. Teachers are doing both in-person and remote instruction, sometimes simultaneously. For those who had been teaching from home since the pandemic started, Monday was their first time working with students in a classroom in nearly a year.

“It’s encouraging to see more teachers and adults on campus,” Yap said. “We don’t want to relax, but there is a sense of euphoria from the teachers who got the vaccine. We can move forward now. It’s one more step toward normalcy.”

Maui High math teacher Shawn Mongenyip sits in front of a large-screen monitor while remotely teaching students how to solve equations Friday morning. Many teachers are juggling in-person and online instruction, sometimes simultaneously. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Out of 11,088 Hawaii public school teachers to respond to a Hawaii State Teachers Association survey released earlier this month, 52 percent reported they had received one or both doses of vaccine. Another 20 percent were waiting to be vaccinated. There were 10.4 percent who said they were not ready but would consider the shots later, and 1.6 percent who said they do not want to ever get the vaccination.

Maui had 524 teachers report they had received both doses, the most of any island. The teachers union strongly endorses vaccinations.

“The HSTA fully encourages all of its members and the community to get COVID-19 vaccinations,” the union said in a statement. “HSTA is optimistic that when educators receive the second of the two-step vaccinations currently available in the United States, that will open up safer opportunities to increase in-person learning options.”

Kathleen Dimino, complex area superintendent for the Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui Complex, said the return to classes was made possible by thoughtful and tireless planning.

“We are 100 percent committed to ensuring our students are getting the safest learning experience,” Dimino said in an email Friday. “During my most recent school visits, I have observed this dedication firsthand. I witnessed all staff and students closely following safety protocols. Most importantly, teachers and students were laughing and engaging in thoughtful conversations. Students were truly enjoying their return to the classroom and staff members were ecstatic to have them there.”

Central Maui’s other large public high school, Baldwin High, is still using distance learning for nearly all of its students. Baldwin is scheduled to start bringing seniors back March 9, and juniors March 22. In a letter posted on the school’s website Thursday, Baldwin Principal Keoni Wilhelm said a more detailed announcement, including plans for sophomores and freshmen, will be released next week.

At Maui High Friday morning, teachers appeared to be conducting far more online instruction than in person. With one student present to take part in a lab, biology teacher Nanna Lindberg got creative with multiple laptop camera angles so students at home could be part of the experiment to transform bacteria. As classmates watched on their screens, the lucky student in class treated a slide of bacteria with a gene that will eventually cause it to glow green.

Lindberg said it was great to teach face-to-face again, even if all the faces are covered by masks.

“For me, it’s invigorating,” she said. “That’s why I teach, to have the connection with the students. For a lot of them, it’s hard if they don’t have the personal connection.”

Yap said it is a “huge challenge” for teachers to teach both online and in person.

“You want to talk about hard work, these teachers are working under so many different circumstances than they usually do,” Yap said. “It’s a real difficult challenge, a real unique way of conducting class.”

He said he hoped the return to school leads to other strides forward.

“This is one more step. Hopefully other steps will follow, like with activities, like athletics.”

Hawaii Department of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto is scheduled to brief the Board of Education this week when she is expected to unveil plans to further reopen schools for more in-person learning in the fourth quarter of the school year.

Dimino said she sees light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel.

“Our schools are growing in their confidence to safely bring students back to school,” Dimino said in her email. “The valuable partnerships with our community agencies have truly been beneficial to our students and have added to that confidence.”

Yap said he is optimistic about in-person learning and he longs to see his campus return to normal, but is guarded in his expectations. He said the 2021-22 school year may start out a lot like the current one in terms of mask-wearing, blended learning and social distancing.

“When we talk about opening school next year, unless the rules change, we may be in the same situation,” Yap said.

Although a campuswide “must mask” policy makes their smiles hard to see, Yap said there is no mistaking the students’ joy in being back.

“Just seeing the students’ faces is very encouraging,” he said. “I think they are smiling through their masks.”

* Matthew Thayer can be reached at thayer@maui.net.


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