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Scott Steepleton, Editor
11:40 am PDT May 31, 2020

If you think the summer slump is tough on kids, just wait to see how difficult it could be for them to climb out of the COVID canyon.

The slump or summer slide refers to students, during the break, losing some of what they’ve learned in the previous school year.

This year’s summer break follows something unprecedented: For nearly three months, 45 million students in the U.S. have been out of school, sequestered at home, away from friends and the caring adults they see nearly every day in the classroom.

Sure, many have been doing distance learning the last couple of months. But in a system built on face-to-face interaction, that approach has its limitations. (Nevermind questions about retention of the material.)

For some students in Malibu, waving to or conversing with a friend across the safe divide of a residential street is not even possible because the neighborhoods aren’t exactly traditional.

The campus, therefore, becomes the students’ social hub, Patrick Miller, principal of 950-student Malibu High School, told me in an email.

“For me, 90 percent of school is social,” he said. “Athletics, music, clubs, friends, relationships with staff are often what students describe as making school worth going to.”

But those things could be in jeopardy when school begins again — and in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, Superintendent Ben Drati says school will begin again in about two months.

Many districts will follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, which include screening students and employees upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure; promoting healthy hygiene practices; employees wearing a cloth face covering, as feasible; intensified cleaning, disinfection and ventilation; and encouraging social distancing through “increased spacing, small groups and limited mixing between groups, if feasible.”

But there will also be state guidance and that of county health officials.

All that gives Miller and his colleagues plenty to do between now and the great reopening.

“I am a planner,” Miller said, “so the lack of clarity around what school will look like when we return August 20 is stressful, as I am sure it is for our students and families.”

He praised teachers and staff for “shifting everything overnight” to ensure instruction continued through the end of the year on June 10.

Some of what the students have accomplished has been reported by Malibu Surfside News.

Miller said the teachers, like the students and families, “have adapted and been flexible. They have identified and focused on what is most important for (the) next course, next year, or next opportunity and not only produced intentional tasks for students to complete but live/interactive sessions, discussions, feedback and projects. They have been so responsive in supporting students.”

Students, he noted, have shown motivation and truly applied themselves, taking “ownership and agency over their learning.”

“Not all, but most and I am very proud of them.”

Returning to the things that make school worth going to, Miller says, “These can't be replicated in our current distance learning model, but those elements we can control (instruction, student engagement, tasks, feedback) we will continue to improve as we provide this essential service to our students and families.”

So, whether the return to campus means a return to the classroom, a continuation of remote instruction or a hybrid, the decision, according to Miller, “will be determined with teachers, staff and district staff based on the framework and guidelines we receive.”

Miller anticipates many students and families will be thankful when Malibu High reopens for in-person learning and activities.

“I think this time has really shown us how important the non-academic parts of school are,” he said, “and how many opportunities we’re able to provide our students, despite being a small school.”