The success of the Learning Centers in the Chelsea Public Schools (CPS) has been a bit unheralded, but the lack of cases and positive environment has bred confidence in school leaders like Supt. Almi Abeyta.
Abeyta said there are about 50 kids every weekday at the Clark Avenue/Siegel Middle School and then between 30 to 50 at the Burke Complex with For Kids Only – as well as a handful at Chelsea High School. With that group coming into the building every day in person to do online learning, there has been only one case of a student in their care – which was taken care of with the proper protocols.
That has given Abeyta confidence that school as we once knew it can happen again.
“I think it is possible to bring our most vulnerable kids back when the virus isn’t at the levels it’s at right now,” she said. “I really do think it’s possible. That’s great news to me. We want to bring our most vulnerable kids back.”
The lack of cases among students has been a bit of a surprise. The cases being at only one is much lower than many expected, and lower than in Everett where their e-Learning Centers have seen more cases than in Chelsea.
“We haven’t had but one student case while in our care,” Abeyta said. “It tells you once the kids are there, we have them six feet apart and their masks are on and the virus isn’t spreading when they come to school. It’s a good thing.”
The Learning Centers weren’t established as a test case for in-person school. In fact, they were brought on to fill a need for parents who could not be at home while children were doing online, remote learning. Likewise, for older kids, they were a needed quiet spot to do their work when maybe their homes were not conducive to having school.
In meeting that need, however, they have also found that they believe they have the ability to keep the virus at bay while bringing in a larger amount of students.
“When we do come back and start slow, what’s good about this is our staff and principals have already had kids in the building and know what to do,” she said. “It was a program meant to meet needs, but the same time we’re learning from it.”
One area of concern, of course, is adult staff members and teachers – many of whom feel they are at greater risk than the students if there were a return to in-person schooling.
Abeyta said employees that are getting the virus in the course of their jobs are not getting it from work. After contract tracing it has revealed that most live in Chelsea, and they’re getting it from a spouse at home.
The state and federal governments have also committed rapid testing resources to school districts that have attempted to bring students back to the classroom in various ways.