“We realized this fall that we were spending an awful lot of time talking about COVID. It’s right there behind you all the time,” Lineberry says. Photo by LCGross
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Miami High School Responds to COVID Pandemic with Flexibility and Communication

For Miami High School (MHS) Principal Glen Lineberry – and everyone else on the planet – the past two years have been tough, but the school has rolled with the punches as the COVID pandemic sweeps through classroom and community alike.

Whether classes have been fully online, hybrid, or face-to-face, the key to surviving the pandemic and keeping Lineberry’s students and their parents engaged has been communication.

“For the most part, we have done an effective job of communicating what we’re doing with our students and families,” Lineberry says. “So when we’ve said, ‘Oh, we’re going to switch to hybrid now,’ or ‘We’re going back to full in-person,’ or ‘The numbers are up and we need to go back to virtual for a while,’ it made sense.”

The roller coaster ride for the school began in the spring of 2020 in the final quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, when the Miami Unified School District (MUSD) went to a virtual classroom model during the initial pandemic shutdown.

Lineberry says it was “barely virtual,” as student laptops for distance learning were not available until July. But they made it through, and there was even a socially distanced graduation ceremony in 2020.

The 2020-2021 school year started off remote, but in September 2020 classes shifted to a hybrid model with strict guidelines, including mask requirements and social distancing, for in-person classes. 

The school district even had to amend its dress code to allow students to wear masks.

From that time through the end of the school year, classes fluctuated between virtual and hybrid, finally going full-scale in-person in the spring of 2021.

“After Thanksgiving [2020], we reverted back to virtual because of increased exposure to the virus over the holidays,” Lineberry says. “When we came back after the holidays, we went virtual to the end of January, and then switched back to hybrid. We were reacting to numbers and [Arizona Department of Education] recommendations.”

The current school year started out entirely in-person, although, given the spikes in COVID infections throughout the state as of the first week of January, Lineberry says he wouldn’t be surprised to see the school reverting to some form of online learning at some point. 

“I think we all expected that we’d have to fall back to hybrid or even virtual at some point in the fall,” he says. “We may yet, because we’re seeing spikes that are higher than the original outbreak.”

Along with the resumption of live classes came the return of sports and extracurricular activities. The Vandals footballers maintained control of the coveted Copper Kettle—the prize for beating longtime rival Globe Tigers—for the fourth consecutive year. 

Between outbreaks at various schools, positive COVID tests, and last-minute event cancellations, student-athletes and those involved in extracurricular activities have had to remain vigilant.

“We’ve fielded all the fall and winter sports teams, but there has been some impact,” Lineberry says. “We canceled a couple of times when a program didn’t seem well put together and safety protocols didn’t really seem to be in place. Those decisions have been driven largely by teachers and students taking a look at what’s in front of them and making a decision.

“Beyond that, everybody just has to understand that you may come to school expecting to hop on a bus at one o’clock to go play basketball someplace, and that trip may not happen.”  

Getting back to classrooms and sports arenas was an important aspect of the school district’s motivation. Many students come from households that may not give them as much structure as school provides during an important time in their development. 

“High school isn’t just essays and geometry proofs and lab experiments, it’s a lot of things,” Lineberry says. “So we’re trying to provide as many of those things as we can: school dances matter, as do assemblies and pep rallies. Offering stability to kids who might not have a stable home situation is important, especially in Miami, where a lot of kids have a lot of challenges.”

The social aspect also offers a historical connection to the community, since MHS is a 100-plus-year-old school, and many students are fourth- or fifth-generation Vandals.

“It plugs them into their family experience and the community experience in ways that it might not at a big urban or suburban high school,” Lineberry explains. “When kids marched in the homecoming parade, it’s just like their great-grandparents may have done in ’55.” 

In 2019, Lineberry began work on an online learning program with the help of a $380,000 grant from the Helios Education Foundation. The Arizona Student Opportunity Collaborative (AzSOC) created a virtual classroom allowing students throughout the state to participate in advanced learning programs and gave rural Arizonans access to resources they might not otherwise have.

While that program was intended to help ease a crippling, statewide teacher shortage, the timing of its creation was fortuitous given the pandemic.

AzSOC was able to help schools that lost teachers over COVID concerns by taking on students affected by the pandemic. But an unintended consequence was to highlight the need for online learning, particularly in remote, rural areas.

“The big change was that when we first started up, we had to devote about 20 minutes at the beginning of each conversation with a new school about why we were teaching online,” Lineberry says. “At Miami, we have students taking courses through the network, but that’s because they may be taking advanced physics or something like that.” 

Lineberry explains that part of AzSOC’s purpose is to offer courses so a student who wants to go to ASU’s engineering school, for example, “has a shot at being on the same playing field as some kid coming out of a really top-notch program.” 

The pandemic has only exacerbated the teacher shortage, and Lineberry says it’s hitting hardest when he needs to find substitute teachers.

“It’s been magnified by our inability to get subs,” Lineberry says. “If I call and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this classroom and the teacher’s out because of a positive COVID test, which means somebody in the class probably had it, but I’ll pay you 100 bucks to come and spend the day,’ it’s not much of a draw.”

The district is doing what it can to protect its students and teachers with a flexible approach to teaching, mask requirements, vaccine clinics, and free rapid testing.

Despite everything that’s going right at MHS, the specter of COVID looms over everything, and everyone from students to parents to teachers to administrators is feeling the pressure.

“We realized this fall that we were spending an awful lot of time talking about COVID. It’s right there behind you all the time,” Lineberry says. “But we also realized that we needed to not do that. I think we all thought this year it was going to be different, and it hasn’t been, and that’s hard on people. It’s wearing on everybody.”

Lineberry credits amazing teachers, good kids, and patience from the community he serves for surviving the pandemic relatively unscathed at this point.

“We’re working really hard at not letting it govern us,” he concluded. “There’s a real cost to kids when they lose their chance to go to school, a cost that we’re only beginning, I think, to quantify.”

One comment

  1. Nice story, David, well-presented and up-to-date. This is a story that should be told my the MSM instead of panic all the time. Keep it up!

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