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Baldwin seniors back on campus

750 total students have elected to learn in person

Baldwin High Student Services Coordinator Janina Amaral goes over a health check with senior Lala Nardi before classes Thursday, while clerk Carole Satoshige takes Jerren Manarpaac’s temperature. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

WAILUKU — Baldwin High School Principal Keoni Wilhelm was “flying high” Thursday as he welcomed more of the school’s senior class back to campus, including some who have not attended since last year.

“I’m flying high, especially with our seniors,” Wilhelm said shortly after the school day began Thursday. “Although the atmosphere is calm because there’s not as many students on our campus, there is this excitement that I’m feeling and I can definitely feel the excitement being reciprocated back to me even though we can’t hug, we can’t do those things we normally do, I feel the connection is going both ways between myself and the students.”

Baldwin began bringing its seniors back this week, starting with those whose last names begin with A through L. Seniors with last names in the latter half of the alphabet returned on Thursday. Prior to this week, only a portion of Baldwin’s students, such as vulnerable learners and special education students, were on campus, Wilhelm said.

Students will return in groups according to grade and last names, Wilhelm added. About 750 students — including vulnerable learners and special education students — have elected to return, 58 percent of a student body numbering about 1,295.

In late February, Central Maui’s other major high school, Maui High, brought about 650 of its 2,000-plus students back to campus, with 1,400 opting to learn at home, Principal Jamie Yap said last month.

Baldwin High School Food Service Manager Reid Ouchi stands by one of the X-shaped Plexiglas shields that divide cafeteria tables into quarters on Thursday. Baldwin began welcoming back its seniors this week and plans to bring juniors back to campus later this month.

While not all of the 750 Baldwin High students who chose to learn in person will be on campus at the same time, Wilhelm and the staff are still happy to see their faces in the halls again.

“I can also feel this sense of aloha being spread throughout the campus from our teachers to our students and our staff to our students,” he said.

Social studies teacher Scott Clarke was outside his classroom welcoming students this week. At first Clarke said he was unsure about teaching in person and online at the same time.

“I was a little apprehensive at first,” Clarke said Thursday morning. “I had my AP English History class in and it was refreshing. The apprehension just went away and I felt that connection again with the students. It felt great to see their faces. It was just half a face, but it’s still a face.”

Clarke said teaching in class and online and learning how to adjust to keep students engaged in both scenarios has been an interesting challenge.

Social studies teacher Scott Clarke gives senior Shandon Obregon a virtual fist bump in his classroom Thursday.

“The learning curve has been so steep,” Clarke said. “I had never done a Google Meet or Zoom before. It has been a good learning experience. In a way, it is like teaching college. They have to be self-directed.”

At the cafeteria, Food Service Manager Reid Ouchi said, “It’s good to see them back for their final two months. It’s good for the seniors especially to see their friends one last time.”

It has been quite an adjustment for Ouchi and his crew, who now pack lunches and breakfasts for the grab-and-go program in which parents pick up meals for students learning at home. For the staff, it’s hard to predict exactly how many to prepare.

“We’re playing a guessing game every day, every week,” Ouchi said.

He said the number of meals they’ve been distributing has dwindled during the pandemic.

PRINCIPAL KEONI WILHELM – Glad to have students back

Ouchi estimated that prior to the pandemic the cafeteria served an average of 400 meals per day, including some that went to senior citizens programs. Now it’s around 220 or so daily, which still includes meals to senior citizens programs.

The cafeteria also features Plexiglas shields in the food service line as well as X-shaped shields that divide lunch tables into quarters.

Wilhelm said the shields were made on campus. There are also tables where students can eat outdoors.

He credited staff for their efforts, including custodian Jerome Rodrigues.

“We did a lot of work getting ready to make sure the kids were super safe,” Vice Principal Maria Robinson said.

Robinson, who leads the school’s COVID Response Team, credited teachers for their resiliency and ability to adapt.

“Our teachers have learned a whole new skill set,” Robinson said.

When students and staff arrive on campus, they go through a check-in and further screening if they do not fill out an online health questionnaire prior to coming to school.

Student Services Coordinator Janina Amaral took temperatures and conducted health screenings for arriving students Thursday.

While she and other staff have been working with some students since June, she said “it is good to have more students on campus.”

“It feels a bit weird that I spent most of the school year at home,” said senior Lala Nardi after getting her health screening. “But it feels good to be back. I hope the school year just goes well.”

Fellow senior Victoria Rodrigues said the new safety protocols felt “weird.”

“We have to check in now instead of just walking on campus and doing your thing,” she said.

While many of her classmates have elected to continue at-home learning, Rodrigues said being on campus was the best choice for her.

“I need my grades up, and in person is better for me.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com. Matthew Thayer can be reached at matthayer@mauinews.com.

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