As the first week of modified in-person learning comes to an end, Arizona's largest school district, Mesa Public Schools, showcased unity and expectations to transition into a five day a week, in-person learning plan, starting Oct. 12.
With a district-wide population of around 63,000 students, 66% of Mesa Public School families made the decision to convert to a modified in-person learning schedule, which kickstarted Sept. 14.
As the number of COVID cases in Mesa continues to change, this in-person plan is expected to evolve.
This first week was met with attentive and eager students who cooperatively participated in COVID-19 safety regulations. Masks were worn and classrooms were socially distanced as approximately 30 to 45% of a school's student population attended campus on their assigned days.
Students are separated into two groups, one group attending school Mondays and Thursdays while the other attends Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesday remains remote only.
After six months of quarantine, many students were happy to step foot on campus. Quincey Strobel a senior at Skyline High School is relieved to finally attend school in person.
"Even with the masks, it's a breath of fresh air," said Strobel. "While it is only for two days a week, it's nice to have some form of normalcy."
Many appreciate the human contact, but for Red Mountain senior, Genesis Betancourt, in-person learning is met with many risks.
"I decided to stick with remote learning to protect my family and mother, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer," said Betancourt
The health and safety of students, staff, and the community is a top priority for the school district. Mesa COVID numbers are closely monitored, and the modified in-person plan remains only if cases are below 7%.
"We watch the data daily," said Mesa Public Schools' Associate Superintendent Holly Williams. "Community members and schools that are impacted, know immediately when we are aware of positive cases."
All families have the option to continue the academic year online. However, through close observation of data, the District Governing Board has set Oct. 12 as the transition date for a five-day in-person learning plan.
This plan is set to take place if the community spread is at a minimal level. Meaning, COVID positivity is below 5%, and for every 100,000 people, the number of cases is 10 or below.
"This conversation is rooted in these metrics that we have been studying and following," Said Superintendent Dr. Andi Fourlis. "And we are working with public health officials to discuss if this is a workable and reasonable plan."
While this first week of modified learning was a success, the layout for the rest of the academic year is still unknown. For now, data is monitored as preparations are being made for the 12th.
As the academic year faces constant changes, Mesa Public Schools remain positive in the success of their students.
"There has been pain, there has been suffering, there have been hard decisions made by families and by our staff. But at the end of the day, we are Mesa Public Schools, who are committed to our 60,000 students and their education," said Dr. Fourlis.