Struggling high school students back to the classroom in Harrisonburg

Struggling high school students back to the classroom in Harrisonburg
(FILE) (Source: WHSV)

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - There was a lot on the agenda for the Harrisonburg City School Board work session Tuesday evening, including the plan to introduce more high school students back into classrooms.

Starting Monday, March 22, 9th and 12th graders who are failing one or more classes can return to in-person learning. Struggling 10th and 11th graders can get back in the classroom Monday, April 12.

Superintendent Dr. Michael Richards says bringing high school students back has been challenging, and while Harrisonburg City Public Schools is working to bring entire grade levels back on a hybrid schedule, they need to move inch-by-inch with Harrisonburg High School.

One of the main reasons for the slow return is that HHS is already overcrowded. The high school was meant for a maximum of 1,350 students, but was teaching over 1,900 pre-pandemic. Construction of the city’s second high school was stalled last year due to COVID-19.

Richards says between struggling high school students and identified students that have been learning in-person all school year, as of March 16, they are expecting 300 to 400 students in the HHS building.

The superintendent mentioned to board members that if gathering restrictions ease, they would like to have socially-oriented activities for seniors before the school year ends.

“As that new information comes to us we will, of course, give the seniors every opportunity to be together, including a graduation, if that’s possible,” Richards said.

The school division is also very dependent on bus transportation, and because the state said students should sit one to a seat, that is also slowing reopening for more students.

HCPS also has to address grouping students together.

“The students who don’t come in neat grade-level packages, they’re taking courses with students from various grades,” Richards said. “It is harder to teach them apart and put them into a certain grouping at the school.”

Richards says they are also excited to be moving forward with outdoor learning spaces for pre-kindergarten through 8th-grade classes.

“Kids are more engaged when they are outdoors,” Richards said. “They are more excited to be there, and not excited in a bad way like you can’t focus them on learning, but just more engaged.”

Tuesday’s meeting included the second reading of next school year’s budget, which was not yet approved. Board members will meet to discuss that again on March 25.

The budget includes a 5% raise for employees and an enhancement to hourly waged-employees.

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