EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this story was published, Belen Consolidated Schools plan for hybrid learning at the secondary level has changed significantly. 

Please follow this link for the most up-to-date information.

BELEN — The days are counting down to March 22 and Belen Consolidated Schools Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez is confident middle and high school students can begin hybrid learning on that date.

Secondary students couldn’t return as the same time as elementary because there were several logistical hurdles to clear, Sanchez told the Belen Board of Education at a recent meeting. The state Public Education Department didn’t release it’s COVID-19 guidance and requirements for secondary hybrid learning until Jan. 15.

At the district’s two high schools — Belen and Infinity — students arrive on campus multiple ways, including driving themselves, taking the bus, walking and being dropped off.

“We have to screen all those students. We are starting hybrid with small groups of students with (Individual Education Plans), English language learners and at risk students,” Sanchez said. “Right now, at Belen High School, we have over 200 students wanting to do hybrid, but a lot of kids are not interested in coming back.”

Sanchez said he and other administrators are learning remote learning is allowing students to have flexible schedules that allow for jobs.

“I know a lot of kids are working, supporting their family due to job loss. Some have different goals, like saving for college or a car,” he said.

The bell schedules created for the two high schools and Belen Middle School will be identical, and the a.m./p.m. schedule will maximize the use of instructional time to provide intervention and credit recovery at the high schools.

The first session will be from 7:30-11:30 a.m., broken into 60 minute class periods instead of 90 minutes. Sanchez said campuses should be cleared in 15 minutes, then from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., staff will have lunch.

Then in the afternoons, from about 12:20-2:30 p.m., there will be structured learning opportunities made available to students in two sessions on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Sanchez said those two afternoon sessions can be used by students for anything from credit recovery, intervention, hands-on science labs or labs for electives.

“There will be a student who needs to recover credit to graduate this year or down the road. If a freshman didn’t pass Algebra I in the fall, we can offer it now so they won’t go into next year behind. This isn’t a study hall; its true intervention.”

Students will be able to do hands-on learning for subjects ranging from chemistry to woodshop, Sanchez said.

While the morning sessions target specific groups of students, the afternoons are open for anyone who wants to come.

In the hybrid model, all students will be learning remotely on Wednesdays to allow for deep cleaning at all school sites.

Plans for secondary students are still being finalized and could be approved by the Belen Board of Education on Tuesday, March 9. A site visit by PED staff and a local fire marshal would take place to make sure all COVID-19 mitigation requirements has been completed. Finally, the reentry plans have to be approved by PED.

“The target return date is March 22. We tried to get in earlier because we want to get our kids back in ASAP but secondary requires a lot more,” Sanchez said.

The way PED defined hybrid might have led to some delays for secondary, he said. The department required that all students who wished to return to in-person learning be allowed and able to do so at least two days a week for 11 hours a week, the superintendent said.

“That was the guidance we got from PED. I will take the criticism — I did not think the things I mentioned, like credit recovery, would be approved by PED since attendance is not mandatory and it’s not for a grade,” he said. “The (New Mexico Activity Association’s) deadline for fall sports was in place and we turned things over every which way but we didn’t have a way to meet that deadline. We felt like it was best to not string the students along. ‘Oh, keep practicing. You’ll get to play eventually.’

“If this plan is approved, we will be able to have winter and spring sports. The guidance for chorus and band have not changed because of the aerosols. Everything else is a go.”

Elementary students in BCS returned to hybrid learning on Monday, March 1.

“We decided to do elementary first because we had already done it in the fall and they don’t have as much movement,” Sanchez said. “Our No. 1 priority is students be educated, and students and staff are safe. We’ve continued to review our plans and update them as needed. We’ve had very intentional communication with all our stakeholders.”

Sanchez said each school site will have the autonomy to set up situations that best suit them in terms of how to combine teachers for hybrid and remote learning.

Meals for students remaining in remote will be provided via curbside pick up; buses will no longer be delivering meals.

Students do not need to be in the vehicle and meals — breakfast and lunch — can be picked up between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at: Belen High School, Belen Middle School, Central, Dennis Chavez, La Merced and La Promesa elementary schools.

On Wednesdays, all BCS school sites will provide curbside meals from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Anyone with questions about meals should call 966-1714.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.