Lessons Learned after Four Weeks of Hyflex Schooling
This article was first published at https://www.xs.edu.ph/ on July 19, 2022.
Both campuses of Xavier School started the new school year on June 20, 2022 using the HyfleXS model. Enrollment in San Juan had reached 3,830 students, while Nuvali had 1,476.
Since the Department of Education required 1-meter distancing in the classroom when our school year started, less than 20 students in each class could report to school. They were called the Roomies. The rest of the class followed via Zoom (the Zoomies) using equipment that the school had installed in each classroom (big screen, microphone, camera, and speakers). In a few grade levels where a big number had chosen to remain online for the time being, students already reported daily.
Under the HyfleXS model, onsite and online students learned together. The Roomies and Zoomies alternated every week in reporting to school, while those with special circumstances could also choose to be Zoomies for the whole first term (ending in Mid-September). Following the rules of the Department of Education, both vaccinated and unvaccinated students were allowed to attend classes in person. Vaccination, however, was highly encouraged.
After four weeks of trying out this model, what have we learned?
COVID PROTOCOLS At the school gates, each student’s temperature was checked, then s/he would tap in with their school ID, and also scan the QR code of their daily health declaration form. The faculty and staff did the same and this helped the school ensure that anyone with flu-like symptoms, or had COVID-19 exposure, could not report to school.
We had learned that putting such a system in place required major follow-through. When parents reported that a student had tested positive for COVID-19, had possible COVID symptoms, or had been exposed to a COVID+ person in their household or elsewhere, the school administration had to do due diligence and inform the class bubble where the student belonged. Following the latest guidance from the IATF and the US Centers for Disease Control, the affected group would be asked to remain at home and shift to online schooling. They would also be informed of the date when they could return to school. A COVID-19 negative test was not required after the prescribed number of days had been observed. This varied for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.
We had also learned that our protocols presumed the honesty and goodwill of all stakeholders, especially parents when they would fill out the daily health declaration form. We had experienced sending students home because they exhibited symptoms that were already present when they entered the school gates.
The alternating weekly schedule of Roomies and Zoomies turned out to be helpful when it came to observing isolation periods. When reports were to be made from Thursday onwards, the Roomie group would have been approaching their online schedule anyway, so staying home would not be so disruptive. When information would come in during the first days of the week, then the shift to online learning would happen sooner and result in a longer disruption to the alternating weekly schedule.
In the first four weeks of school, Xavier recorded 54 (GS 36 + HS 18, 1.4% of the student population) reported COVID-19+ student cases in San Juan and 8 in Nuvali (GS 6 + HS 2, 0.5% of population). These were largely due to household transmission and were more prevalent in grade school where there were more unvaccinated children.
The respective classes of COVID-19 positive students were informed, and isolation days adjusted accordingly, including those who might have had direct exposure to them. There had been no sense of panic as people adjusted to this new situation of having mild infections.
A far bigger number of students, 346 (GS 229 + HS 117, 9% of the population) in San Juan and 119 (8% of population) in Nuvali, reported flu-like symptoms and were asked to stay home. Though many of these were possibly cases of allergic rhinitis or the common cold, the students were asked to stay home anyway.
The work of contact tracing and informing affected bubbles was a major undertaking that needed to be carried out on top of the usual administrative duties. The school administration recognized this in assessing the workload of personnel.
On the whole, mask-wearing was strictly observed in the school setting, even during PE classes. Distancing, however, could only be strictly enforced in the formal classroom setting. It had to be recognized that during breaks, and at the beginning and end of the day, students interacted freely, and it was not feasible to keep calling their attention. It helped, however, that these interactions most often happened in open spaces outside the classroom.
In the classroom, much effort had been exerted to ensure proper ventilation. Aside from the air purifier inside the room, one door and one window were kept partially open to provide air flow. This made the air-conditioning unit work harder, but ventilation and a comfortable temperature needed to go together as a safety protocol.
ADULT BEHAVIOR IN SCHOOL Similar protocols were in place for monitoring the health status of faculty and staff. When a teacher needed to stay home but was well enough to continue teaching, s/he could do so while another adult was assigned to be in the room to supervise the onsite students.
The hyflex model required teachers and formators to multi-task all the time, and this had to be recognized by the school administration. Adults also had to be role models in observing the protocols themselves. When a school employee needed to stay home, the rest of their team had to cover for them; but it could happen too, that the rest of the team had been exposed to them and needed to stay home. This presented staffing challenges and we tried our best to “keep calm and carry on.”
EATING IN SCHOOL We observed that most students brought their own food to school, but the older ones also bought food from the canteen using a cashless system. We learned that seating arrangement could still be improved so that students would not face each other whether directly or diagonally while at their dining tables. This was also the recommendation in the latest DepEd Order.
School employees had been enjoined not to eat together, but we learned that frequent reminders were helpful as Filipinos are known as highly sociable.
OVERALL LEARNING EXPERIENCE Despite having so many variables to manage, initial feedback from parents was that teachers were able to teach well and managed both the Roomies and the Zoomies. The latter were able to participate well on days when they were assigned to be online. The parents greatly appreciated the school’s attention to health protocols so that students could transition back to in-person learning.
The Department of Education has mandated the full return to in-person classes by early November. Some details still need to be clarified to address the legitimate concerns of some parents who have valid reasons for choosing the online option, but on the whole, having the majority of students back in onsite school is a positive development that has taken too long to be implemented in our country. It will actually ease the burden of teachers who are now on their third year of trying to facilitate learning in less-than-ideal circumstances. Having most students back in the classroom minimizes the need for managing students who, for whatever reason, can only participate in the online modality.
We have learned much from online schooling in the last two years. We see the hybrid or hyflex models as necessary options in the future of education, so that the best of online schooling can complement in-person learning. While the ideal default modality in basic education is still onsite school, our online day every week has proven to be a welcome respite from the weekday morning rush, especially given the increasing cost of transportation.
The readiness to shift schooling online at any time is also an essential component of disaster preparedness, for example, when public health requires periods of lockdown to slow down the spread of infections.
As soon as the DepEd lifts the requirement of physical distancing, we will give parents the option to send their children to school for four days every week.
By sharing our experience after one month of hyflex learning, Xavier School hopes to contribute to the wider national conversation on safely bringing students back to physical school.
Fr. Aristotle C. Dy
SJ, Xavier School