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MARICOPA — Data presented to the Maricopa Unified School Board on Wednesday by the superintendent and school staff showed the influence the pandemic has had on students and staff alike, in the midst of a very unusual school year.

Enrollment for MUSD has remained steady throughout the pandemic, according to Superintendent Tracey Lopeman, even increasing by about 100 students from August 2020. Data shared with the board starting Oct. 13 also showed that, while previously in-person and online learning have remained at about 50/50, this spring semester has shown around 500 more parents choosing in-person school rather than online.

All students are currently online until at least Feb. 1 due to COVID-19, except for those who qualify for on-site support services.

In addition, Lopeman presented data on attendance based on grade level starting at the beginning of the second quarter through this past week. The attendance graphs do not offer numerical tallies of absent students, but instead show a percentage of students attending class each week for both in-person and online starting Oct. 13.

At the elementary level, K-6, in-person attendance decreased subtly from around 95% over the course of last semester, with an increase again during the first week of school. However, this past week, both in-person and online attendance decreased to the lowest point presented.

Once at the middle school level, a trend in decreased attendance begins to take shape. Starting at close to 90% of students attending class in October for both online and in-person schooling, the weeks vary significantly, and in January show around 75% attendance in-person and 80% online.

Maricopa High School had the most drastic changes in attendance. Certain weeks in the last quarter show nearly 100% attendance, while other weeks hover around only 65-70%. Decreasing again this semester, the first two weeks of the third quarter have started off with in-person and online students attending school at around 75-80%.

MHS Principal Deana McNamee was at the Wednesday meeting to address concerns over student performance at the high school. The school recently implemented a 45-minute period once a day where students are given the time to use in a number of ways.

While this time will be utilized by all students, the function is mainly to address students who are struggling with the workload and maintaining grades.

“The focus has been on those low-achieving kids and how can we respond,” McNamee said, “But also there was communication for students who are academically successful who need support academically (and) also social/emotionally.”

During a November board meeting, Lopeman said there were “a number” of students in the secondary grades who were failing at least one class. Though the district did not identify how many students are not performing academically at the Wednesday meeting, McNamee voiced her concerns over the failures.

Those students who have failed a course are put into a “reteach” program during the 45-minute period, which aims to help students correct their grades from last semester in core classes like English, math, science and social studies, and work on mastery.

“Students who fail these courses are scheduled and placed in these four blocks of reteach to have the opportunity to earn a D for their semester one course,” McNamee said. “We’re not expecting an A at this point, we want to recover credit but we also recognize that we need to provide, again, that additional support. We’re recovering credit but it doesn’t mean our students are proficient.”

Other students who are performing well can take part in the enrichment side of this period, where students can receive help on homework, prepare for exams, conduct group work and collaborate with peers.

“We have students who are academically successful but struggling with just the workload, so they’re working into the evening at home — they just have a lot on their plate,” McNamee said.

Some parents have voiced criticism for this block of time, stating that their children are academically performing and have no need for this time. However, McNamee said that the period was meant to provide relief for students who put out a “call for help,” and this includes allowing for rest and the pursuit of personal interests. The time also provides for more connection, something McNamee says the kids are lacking this year.

“Kids are feeling very disconnected — feeling lonely in their homes,” McNamee said. “limiting exposure is good, but the consequence, the side effect of that, is being able to communicate and interact with their peers and staff.”

While the development of this period is still in the works, McNamee hopes that each student will be able to fill this period with something that is beneficial to their future and well being.

For parents who are similarly struggling, the board and McNamee highlighted the parent support group every Tuesday night currently being offered by high school counselor Amy McCall, who is available to chat not only about student issues but also what parents are going through during this pandemic.

“We know that kids are struggling in this craziness, but we are also providing support for parents,” McNamee said. “That support isn’t necessarily for their student, it’s for the parent. If they have something else going on in their life, in their world, in their work, in their family and they want to have some additional support she is there to provide that.”

To find out more information about this program, contact the MHS front office or email McCall directly at amccall@musd20.org.

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Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.