Kevin Skinkis

School days will be getting back to normal at Riverside-Brookfield High School next fall with an added emphasis on personal connections, executive functioning and equity.

RBHS administrators unveiled a 45-page Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan at a June 28 special committee of the whole meeting of the District 208 Board on Education.

Following the directive of State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala, most students will be required to attend school in person next year.

“Remote learning will not be an option unless there is a medical need,” said Superintendent Kevin Skinkis.

Only students with a diagnosed medical condition that prevents them from being vaccinated and attending school will be considered for a health plan that includes remote learning.

Those students, if any, who qualify for remote learning will not receive instruction from RBHS teachers. Rather, full-time remote learning will be delivered by the West 40 Intermediate Service Center, a division of the Illinois State Board of Education.

Unvaccinated students who have to temporarily quarantine due to exposure to someone with COVID-19 may be able to access live streaming of their RBHS classes while they are in quarantine. Details are still being worked out.

It is not yet clear if vaccinated students and staff will have to wear face masks next year, but unvaccinated students and staff will be required to wear face masks. Skinkis said the school probably will be able to require that students and staff disclose whether they have been vaccinated or not.

Reconnecting with students

Since many of the students who will be returning to RBHS in August will not have set foot in a classroom since March 2020, there will be a great emphasis on establishing personal connections with students.

Administrators have set a goal that every RBHS student forms at least one positive connection with a trusted adult at the school by the end of the first semester.

Academic supports will be strengthened to help students who might need some extra help after being away from in person school for more than a year. But administrators, following the positive attitude mindset of Principal Hector Freytas, are trying to change the conversation from combatting learning loss to a growth mindset that they term “the rebound.”

“A lot of students have made progress during remote learning,” said Kylie Lindquist the assistant principal for curriculum and instruction.

Freshmen and sophomores will be given assessments during the first week of school in August so teachers and administrators can quickly discover where students are at and what gaps in learning may need to be addressed. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors will take the PSAT exam in September or October.

Students who are failing in more than one core class will be instructed to attend Homework Hangout, an after-school study hall for students, and their parents or guardians will be told that their child should attend the after-school program. Failing students who do not attend Homework Hangout could have some privileges revoked.

“The point of Homework Hangout is to give a helping hand to a student,” Freytas told the Landmark.

Students struggling with reading or math will be pulled out of non-academic classes for small-group tutoring. An additional teaching position has been created to staff this “pull out” tutoring.

Nearly $1 million dollars in federal money will be used for additional academic and social-emotional staffing and support including $161,000 for an additional school psychologist.

Executive functioning, how to be organized and efficient, will be emphasized, and one day a month from September through April all freshmen will get lessons on topics such as managing emotions, depression, substance abuse, conflict resolution and coping skills.

Ten years ago, RBHS introduced training in executive functioning using a curriculum developed by the Rush Neurobehavioral Center.

“This is really the perfect time to bring it back,” Lindquist said.

All RBHS students will be instructed to use student planners and have folders or notebooks color-coded for different classes.

All teachers will be expected to follow a common academic routine, including meeting and greeting students as they enter their classroom; having a lesson anchor that details the objective, agenda and assessment for the day’s lesson; and close the class period with a “conscious closing” of a lesson with a preview of next steps.

Teachers will also be expected to do some kind of assessment or check-in with students at the end of the class period to see how they absorbed the lesson. This could be something as easy as a thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs sideways review of the how students absorbed the lesson.

“When students walk into a classroom there is a routine that is familiar to them,” Lindquist said.

The bell schedule will be revised to create five lunch periods instead of the normal three so that the cafeteria will be less crowded and there can be more social distancing.

Federal money will also be used to hire more security staff so that there will be security staff in the building from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Equity an emphasis

Equity will also be a major goal this year. Freytas has set a goal of increasing the diversity of Advanced Placement classes by a half-percent to 1 percent a year.

Last year 59.8 percent of students taking AP classes at RBHS were white, 31.9 percent were Hispanic and 2.5 percent were Black.

White students comprise 52.1 percent of RBHS’ enrollment, Hispanic students 37.3 percent and Black students 6.1 percent.

In an attempt to increase diversity in AP classes, the school will host an AP Family Night in the fall to try and ensure that all families have a chance to know about AP classes, analyze and monitor AP enrollment data and collaborate with staff and counselors to find opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds to take AP classes.

“While it’s never going to be equal, I think it needs to be equitable,” said board member Lorena Gasca.

Sports and extracurricular activities are expected to return to normal.