The district recognizes many families have suffered economically during this pandemic

By Steve Betando

Steve Betando

In the age of this pandemic, adaptability  is not only the key to survival, it is the path to “thrival.” This fall, the students of Morgan Hill Unified School District started the school year virtually after several plans we’d developed shifted according to state and county guidance. Change has become the norm as we’ve had to pivot to accommodate new restrictions.

The two greatest lessons our students can learn during the COVID-19 are: 1) even as a civilized society, we are vulnerable, and 2) how we individually and collectively act during adverse circumstances determine our success.

The virus has stalled our thriving society in every way. The crucial and prized system of education is a significant pillar for all other systems of family life, jobs, social structures, and subsequently the economy, depend. These systems are interconnected. The K-12 education system has a primary directive in preparing students, but there is a dependency on schools as the largest provider of childcare, so parents can go to work.

When the shelter-in-place orders were announced, schools were closed like all other non-essential businesses. However, health care workers and first responders have the most critical role during the pandemic. Many health and emergency heroes are also parents and needed childcare so they could do their jobs. Adapting to this condition meant an early April establishment of a safe Essential Childcare project with more affordable costs.

Along with Morgan Hill Unified School District, this cooperative project included strategic implementation and support from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, Santa Clara County Office of Education, YMCA of Silicon Valley, and the Morgan Hill Community Foundation. The district contributed all facilities costs. Willing school employees who were not needed in their roles because of building shutdowns, took on assignments to support the childcare program. The YMCA was able to pass on the cost savings of facilities and the cost of positions filled by reassigned district employees to the parents to reduce childcare rate. In addition, the Morgan Hill Community Foundation established a fund to assist families for extra financial support for childcare. The adaptable childcare, which established protocols and training for new similar programs throughout the county and beyond, continues today as the Y Super Scholars Program.

When it came to the 2020 Senior Class, our community was also heartbroken for restrictions from traditional graduation activities. Being willing to adapt, the entire community planned and accomplished what proved to be a celebratory and meaningful send off. Activities included an individual in-person ceremony that took place for each student, complete with staff recognition, photos, and personalized conferring of the diploma; a virtual community-wide graduation ceremony with speeches and images of each graduate along with the declaration by the principal for commencement; and a carefully planned car procession for students to join after picking up their diploma, complete with community spectators and supporters to cheer them on along the way.

The district recognizes many families have suffered economically during this pandemic. Very soon after schools were closed, we adapted our Student Nutrition Department, no longer serving lunches to students on campus, and established a Grab ‘n Go lunch program for any youth 18 and younger. We distribute between 20,000 and 40,000 meals each week. District staff extended the program to all youth, not just those who attended Morgan Hill schools. When students returned to classes in August, there was a need to alter the distribution to accommodate the virtual class schedule and we now offer meal pick-ups at two times on Mondays.

It is important to us to take care of our employee community as well. With diminished demand for student transportation this fall, bus drivers adapted in their roles. Those who were not reassigned to the Y Super Scholars Program are working on school site beautification projects.

At the core of adaptability for our students’ education were our amazing educational staff. With the support of the site and district leaders, teachers exceeded all prior comfort levels and leaped forward to begin a virtual program within days. The challenges for restructuring instructional delivery in such a short time was immense. What was not surprising was the teachers’ focus on making it work, and exploring best options to meet the needs of students. Adaptability was critical to jump-start distance learning. Working together, our teachers and administrators advanced distance learning over the summer and into the new year. To thrive, we get better with purpose.

These are a few examples of how our staff and district adapted to meet the challenges of this pandemic, as the community embraced and supported us. We are successful because of the support and flexibility of our families, and the resilience and adaptability of our students. Individual adaptation is the only path to survival. Collective adaptation and working together to meet the challenges before us are what turns survival into “thrival.”

Steve Betando is the superintendent of the Morgan Hill Unified School District.

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