The Return to the Jungle: Everything You Need To Know

Welcome back to school, Bengals! After 18 months, we are back in the building, back to the swing of things, and back to Blake. Our stint with virtual learning taught us some major lessons that we never would have learned without it. This big transition back to our old normal means some big adjustments. Here’s all you need to know about back to school at Blake.

With a new school year comes new changes, and this school year entails a new assistant principal for us Bengals, Dr. Sharon Carlton. 

Despite the many barriers COVID-19 put up, it thankfully spared us from making the process any harder than it had to be. The Blake staff advertised a new position, waited for eligible candidates to pool in, as well as be approved by the system, corroborated the applicants’ references and supervisors, then finally interviewed all who seemed fit for the job. 

Those who applied varied from both veterans in the administration world, and rookies who were still looking to dip their feet in the water. Mr. Sinclair, our current principal, looked for an individual whose skills complemented the ones of their future coworkers, as well as one who had experience overseeing at a high school.

Although a new change in staff can make some individuals feel wary, our comfort regarding the new addition in staff has been taken into account. The most important factor that Mr. Sinclair took into account whether they would be able to create a connection amongst our fellow Bengals.

After almost a year and a half of online learning, it is more than understandable Mr. Sinclair would want someone who can help revive the sense of community that once filled the halls of our high school. Thanks to Blake reverting back to full time in-person learning, our new addition won’t have to worry about having to interact solely with black squares on a screen, making their job much easier.

Blake’s spirit is undeniable.  With our long lost pep rallies and our drum line alarms, there is always something to celebrate. However, with mask mandates and covid precautions, students are scared of what could happen to the Bengal community. Mr. Sinclair emphasizes how his goal is to make Blake as much of a community as it was before. Through meetings with the SGA and staff he aims to create more teen activities, as well continue the beloved football games, school plays, and homecoming hallways. 

Although Blake already had a large social and political chain of activists, this last year especially there has been a growth in students’ concern for our future society. β€œStudents will have those opportunities to participate in discussions, to have those conversations,” Mr. Sinclair states. Blake Staff is advised to read the students tone and energy and adjust accordingly so we can have a safe, productive, and progressive learning environment. 

It’s one thing to give students an outlet to express themselves with clubs, panels, and class discussions but Mr. Sinclair motivates Blakes community to do more. β€œHow to have these discussions that result in action, it’s one thing to have these conversations, but what are we doing to change things? How can we as a community build ourselves to prevent an event from impacting our school?” He lists answers to those questions: it could be through β€œRestorative Justice” or more school leadership and an exploration of the communities influenced. 

The debate between paper or online emerged even before Covid came around, so now what? With our last year almost being completely online, students and teachers got adjusted to finding every inch of their education in one place: Canvas. Sinclair mentions how much of last year was trial and error, what worked and what didn’t. Overwhelmingly students and staff liked canvas over its original β€œcompetitor” Google Classroom. Small things like paper vs online work are what’s making the transition back to school successful. 

A new structural addition that MCPS has also introduced this year is their Virtual Academy. Unlike last year’s virtual learning system, the Virtual Academy is designed specifically for students to learn completely online, without losing any progress to in-person learning.

β€œThese plans have been happening for quite a while,” Mr. Sinclair says. β€œThe team that was putting it together, they would meet with administrators, teachers, parents, and students from all levels. I know they are doing as best they can.”

Around 1.6% of MCPS high school students, about 800, will be participating in this online learning format, Mr. Sinclair cited from the Bethesda Beat at the time of our interview. Although these numbers are relatively low compared to the overall student population, these students will still get the opportunity to experience an education that suits them.

However, there are some drawbacks. β€œThe hard part is they can’t offer every course,” Mr. Sinclair says. Most music and hands-on art courses, like ensemble and fashion design, will look very different for Academy students, if they can be offered at all.

Regardless, standard school structures, such as curriculum and expected student engagement, will be fixed to equate that of a regular school atmosphere. Mr. Sinclair notes that the Academy’s application process helps to ensure that dedicated students will be able to take advantage of the opportunity.

How will this new learning environment manifest itself? The only thing left to do is wait. β€œA lot of it is yet to be seen,” Mr. Sinclair explains. The Academy experience will be new for everyone involved. Like virtual learning this past year, it’s expected that adjustments will have to be made.

Another significant addition to this year’s schedule at Blake is an Advisory period. Every Friday for 25 minutes between first and second period, students can expect a similar situation to last year’s Bengal Time.

From goal setting to organization and the familiar faces of social-emotional learning lessons, Advisory will help offer students some much-needed support as they navigate the return back to in-person learning. Unlike Bengal Time last year, which instigated extremely polarized opinions from students, Advisory hopes to serve as a more acceptable means of connecting students to non-academic education.

β€œSome of it will be based off of two programs we’re implementing this year,” Mr. Sinclair describes. β€œOne: we are going to be a restorative justice school… The second one is a new social-emotional learning curriculum called β€˜The Leader in Me.’”

These lessons won’t only be implemented into student’s education. Mr. Sinclair adds that β€œall teachers got training, [some] getting enhanced training” in restorative justice and team building practices over the summer. Ideally, this will not only help build a stronger, safer community among the staff, but also help transfer these skills to students through example.

All this new information is a lot to take in. However, with the help of our Bengal staff and students, we can navigate this together. The 2021-2022 school year will surely be one to remember, even if we can’t remember where some of our classes are.

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