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Community divided on return to face-to-face instruction

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Conflicting feelings from the island's students and teachers continue to surface as the Guam Department of Education enforces the necessary protocol to open school campuses for students.

Educators such as Tara Tydingco, a Spanish teacher from John F. Kennedy High School, expressed her excitement for the return of traditional school.

“I am excited to finally meet some of the hard copy students who have been doing their best to teach themselves at home. I am also looking forward to seeing the faces of some of my online students who keep their cameras off during online classes, which is most of them.” Tydingco stated, elaborating on the social aspects the new academic environment will provide.

“It will be especially challenging for classes where there are only one or two students, but I know that teachers will do their best to conduct the classes in the most effective way and students will adjust and gain confidence once they get to know their teachers. It’s unfortunate that my students won’t be able to do things like group skits, partner dancing, or field trips, but it’s more important that we keep each other safe.”

With the decrease in new COVID-19 cases and the administration of vaccines on-island reaching an expanding population, the governor allowed schools on Guam to reopen this month. On Tuesday, GDOE students at Simon Sanchez High, F.B. Leon Guerrero Middle, and Benavente Middle schools, along with a few private schools, returned to face-to-face learning. Other schools are expected to resume the traditional learning in the coming days or weeks. 

Earlier in the school year, the Guam Department of Education provided three models of learning for primary and secondary school students; distance education, where students received their instructive material from teachers through online platforms, and the distribution of hardcopy packets for assignments. In January, multiple schools on Guam will reopen their campus for the return of the third model of learning, traditional school.

The initiative to implement face-to-face learning was attempted at the beginning of the school year. However, influxes of COVID-19 cases led officials to heighten restrictions for public and social gatherings, including shutting down schools. Traditional school learners transferred to either hard-copy or online learning.

Students who will be transitioning back to face-to-face learning shared their thoughts on the return. A junior from John F. Kennedy High School, Emelia Bawit, explained how her experience will improve due to the new learning environment.

“I am thrilled to have the option to go back to the classroom – I think the learning experience will actually improve. With a classroom full of students, teachers are constantly having to focus their attention on multiple students,” she furthered, emphasizing the small student population. “If the class size is limited, I think the end results will be a better learning environment.”

To accommodate students' efforts with distance learning, schools institutions provided necessary resources, such as school supplies, mobile laptops and wireless networks. Educators highly encouraged their students to gain access to these devices in order to excel in their academics.

Less than 10% of the student population will frequent their respective school campuses in comparison to previous years.

Denise Carlos, an elective teacher of Okkodo High School, shared contentment with this sentiment.

“Of course things will not be exactly the same but it gives me the opportunity to help these students learn better than they did in remote learning, where they had to heavily rely on themselves or their parents’ help to learn some of their lessons.”

However, Carlos admitted to feelings of apprehension towards the return. “Although I am excited to finally meet some of my students and to also finally gain a sense of some normalcy, to be quite frank, I am still quite anxious and fearful. We are still in a pandemic after all so I think these are normal feelings to have,” she disclosed, confessing that similar feelings arose in the beginning of the school year, “but as time went by we all overcame and little by little things got better. So overall, I am hopeful that myself and the rest of Guam will adapt to our new situation.”

As the remainder of the school year proceeds, people in the community expect that patterns from previous attempts to reopen schools will occur. Instances where schools discovered positive cases among their numbers led to eventually closing down, similar to events at Father Duenas Memorial School in August.

Despite this, students and school administration look forward to gathering together.

Parents such as Natalie Blaz indicate the benefits the transition would provide. “They (students) will be able to get back into maintaining a routine and will have more motivation to do work in school, rather than doing all their work on their own. Plus they won’t have “screen fatigue.”

Dylan Cruz, a junior at Okkodo High School, agreed.

“I’m really happy, it’s hard for me to learn through screen – but for other people it may be harder for them.” He detailed how other students may be uncomfortable with the safety hazards sharing a campus would provide.

Branching from this, Carlos added, stating how students were able to adapt to the new learning procedures in the past, “I think that with the uncertainty caused by this pandemic, distance learning is still the best solution – on top of that it tremendously helped flatten the curve of positive cases on our island. With having to go back to (face-to-face) instruction – it will give students struggling with remote learning the opportunity to come to school and do better this upcoming semester.”

In preparation of the return, the Guam Department of Education will enforce several preventative measures to secure the safety of faculty members and students:

• All individuals on campus are required to wear face-masks at all times

• Students and faculty must maintain a distance of six feet

• Body temperatures will be tested upon arrival to the school campus

• Facilities will be sanitized regularly

• Hand sanitizer and alcohol-based items will be provided by the faculty staff

• Students and faculty will take a COVID-19 test in groups upon random selection

• Reminders of rules and guidelines will be posted around the school

In case of argument against these regulations, Tydingco reminded, “Everyone has had a chance to learn how to protect themselves and others – it’s really up to each of us to respect the situation and keep each other safe from the virus.”

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