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Back to school: Howard County begins phased-in hybrid learning model with some students in classrooms

Howard County schools Superintendent Michael Martirano’s shamrock tie Monday morning wasn’t just for good luck.

The tie — along with matching shamrock socks, of course — is the same tie he was wearing on the last day of school in March 2020 before buildings were shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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“That night, I was at a Howard High School girls basketball game, and that was the last student event I attended,” Martirano said. “I’m wearing the tie to remind me of where we’ve come, but also to sprinkle good luck to everybody.”

Monday was the first day of hybrid learning in Howard County, with about 4,000 students in the 77-school system returning to classrooms to receive in-person instruction for the first time since March 13, 2020. The students in “Group E” — the term the district uses for the students who returned Monday — are those who most need in-person learning, such as students with individualized educational plans and those who were invited to the in-person small group programs in the fall.

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The entire school system also adjusted its schedules starting Monday to accommodate the in-person students as well as the virtual students and provide more instructional time.

“Seeing our students and staff being resilient ... I felt this wave in emotion come over me,” Martirano said. “... There’s more to the educational process than curriculum. The need for young people to develop their social-emotional skills, the maturation level, their interactions with each other — we can’t replicate that in the virtual environment.”

Waverly Elementary School Principal Rachel Edoho-Eket sees the beginning of hybrid learning Monday as a “soft start.” With fewer students in the buildings, mitigation strategies — like keeping a 6-foot distance — are easier and Edoho-Eket believes the phased-in approach will lead students and staff to feel more comfortable with the model.

“We are really excited to welcome the students back,” she said. “However, it’s very different when you see them in person, and that’s the feeling we’re used to. We want them back, and we’re so happy they’re back.”

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Waverly — a recently renovated elementary school that the district chose for media to tour Monday — employed several strategies to help prevent spread of the coronavirus. Desks in classrooms were spread apart, and each student had two desks to use for their work. Instead of tables in the cafeteria, students eat at desks that are also spread out. Signage and stickers on the floor were also placed to help remind the young students of the distance and mask rules.

“The main thing we’ve done is increased our safety procedures,” Edoho-Eket said. “We’re confident that if we follow the procedures ... we will be fine.”

The journey to get students, who have been learning virtually since April, back into classrooms didn’t come easy.

Last summer, the school board approved a plan to stay virtual through February. Then, in November, the board extended that to mid-April.

However, the board was spurred to action in late January after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement that he would pursue consequences for school systems that didn’t get their students back in classrooms in March. A week later, the Howard school board approved a phased-in hybrid model to begin in March, with all students who want to partially be back in classrooms returning by April 12.

All students, including those who choose to remain fully virtual, will see an increase in instructional time from about 12-13 hours a week to 20-25 hours. In total, about 52% of students opted to return to classrooms, while about 85% of staff are returning to buildings.

The next phase of the hybrid model starts March 15 when pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first and second grade students return to school buildings. On March 29, students in grades 3 through 6, 9 and 12 will return, while students in grades 7, 8, 10 and 11 will come back April 12.

Hybrid students are placed on an A-day/B-day schedule, with one group learning in person on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other group on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will remain for self-guided instruction and homework, except for the five-day-a-week students. The virtual option will be similar to what students have received for the last six months except on a different schedule that will also accommodate the hybrid in-person students.

The 4,000 students who returned to classrooms Monday for the five-day-a-week program make up nearly 7% of the system’s 57,000 enrollment. Here is the number of Group E students for each school, in order of percentage of school population:

Elementary schools

Phelps Luck: 96 (15.2%)

Running Brook: 58 (14.4%)

Guilford: 73 (14.2%)

Cradlerock: 65 (14.1%)

Laurel Woods: 92 (14.1%)

Deep Run: 91 (13.2%)

Waterloo: 77 (13%)

Talbott Springs: 59 (12.9%)

Bryant Woods: 47 (12.9%)

Lisbon: 43 (11.7%)

Bellows Spring: 79 (11.6%)

Ducketts Lane: 72 (11.4%)

Centennial Lane: 71 (10.9%)

Bushy Park: 64 (10.7%)

Thunder Hill: 48 (10.3%)

Clarksville: 51 (10.1%)

Dayton Oaks: 69 (9.9%)

Bollman Bridge: 70 (9.8%)

West Friendship: 36 (9.6%)

Ilchester: 52 (9.5%)

Longfellow: 46 (9.5%)

Swansfield: 47 (9.5%)

Pointers Run: 73 (9.3%)

Rockburn: 55 (9.1%)

Hammond: 56 (9.1%)

Atholton: 40 (8.8%)

Stevens Forest: 31 (8.8%)

Waverly: 80 (8.7%)

Triadelphia Ridge: 46 (8.6%)

Elkridge: 69 (8.4%)

Fulton: 70 (8.4%)

Worthington: 40 (8.4%)

Hollifield Station: 62 (8.1%)

Forest Ridge: 51 (7.7%)

Jeffers Hill: 27 (7.3%)

Manor Woods: 51 (7.3%)

St. John’s Lane: 43 (6.4%)

Clemens Crossing: 34 (6.3%)

Northfield: 46 (6.3%)

Hanover Hills: 47 (5.9%)

Gorman Crossing: 39 (4.9%)

Veterans: 35 (3.7%)

Middle schools

Harper’s Choice: 44 (8.9%)

Folly Quarter: 55 (8.4%)

Glenwood: 39 (7.7%)

Patuxent Valley: 58 (7.4%)

Dunloggin: 42 (6.7%)

Bonnie Branch: 46 (6.7%)

Ellicott Mills: 49 (6.3%)

Murray Hill: 45 (6.3%)

Wilde Lake: 40 (6.2%)

Oakland Mills: 27 (5.8%)

Thomas Viaduct: 43 (5.2%)

Patapsco: 35 (5.1%)

Mayfield Woods: 38 (4.8%)

Burleigh Manor: 38 (4.5%)

Clarksville: 30 (4.2%)

Elkridge Landing: 29 (4.1%)

Mount View: 33 (3.9%)

Hammond: 24 (3.9%)

Lime Kiln: 24 (3.8%)

Lake Elkhorn: 21 (3.5%)

High schools

Glenelg: 101 (8%)

Oakland Mills: 81 (6.5%)

Long Reach: 87 (5.5%)

Howard: 83 (4.6%)

Reservoir: 77 (4.3%)

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Wilde Lake: 55 (3.9%)

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Atholton: 53 (3.6%)

Mt. Hebron: 58 (3.6%)

Hammond: 43 (3.3%)

River Hill: 41 (2.8%)

Marriotts Ridge: 31 (1.9%)

Centennial: 23 (1.6%)

Special education centers

Cedar Lane School: 48 (41.7%)

Homewood Center: 27 (22.7%)

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