SAN RAFAEL, Calif. - As the CDC issues new guidance on school desk placement, San Rafael elementary schools are a step ahead.
Beginning March 29, to coincide with Marin County entering the orange tier, classroom instruction will resume with students seated four feet apart.
"We're definitely ready to say good-bye to distance learning," said Cecilia Perez, Principal of Bahia Vista Elementary School, "and we're excited to move to a modified day."
On Friday, federal guidelines changed to allow children's desks to be 3 feet apart.
But San Rafael's 4 foot configuration was already negotiated with teachers.
Many classrooms have been re-arranged with desks, carefully spaced, replacing round tables.
Marin County schools generally are ahead of many counties, with all schools offering in-person learning to some extent.
Currently San Rafael's 3000 youngest students are split into morning and afternoon sessions, 2.5 hours each, with the teacher relaying the same material to each group separately.
On Monday, everyone stays home for remote learning.
But in one week, classes will again be held 5 days a week and extended to 4.5 hours each day.
There will be recess with a snack and a box lunch to take home.
For the first time since the pandemic, classes will be united and conducted fully in-person.
"We're starting to feel somewhat whole again," said Perez.
"We know we're in this for the long haul but it's starting to feel a little bit- dare I say- normal."
Normal goes a long way in the Bahia Vista school community
It is in the heart of San Rafael's Canal district, heavily Latino and working class with many families performing essential jobs making them vulnerable to Covid-19.
"They've had family members who died of Covid so it's something that's heavy on them," said Dee Mackay, a Bahia Vista teacher for 22 years.
Mackay knows her third-grade students will feel more support when surrounded by people, and not alone with screens.
"It's nice to have the kids interact with each other, provide points of view and just be able to explain their thinking," said Mackay.
And when Mackay missed school to get her vaccination, it prompted a discussion with her students.
"They were very curious, like what does that mean, so we learned about the science."
Many San Rafael families are clamoring for the next step: a full school day.
It could come as early as May 1st, assuming Marin County enters the next - yellow- tier.
But it's a gradual process.
"We want to make sure kids feel happy, kids feel safe, kids feel welcome and the academics always go hand in hand with that," said Perez.
Academically, teachers know there is catching up to do, and during the abbreviated day they will focus on core curriculum and learning standards.
"Seeing them in person and seeing their authentic work is really the best gauge of how they are doing," said Mackay, who found online responses didn't always reflect a student's true understanding of the material.
"Now we can look at what they're doing, see their expressions, and hold them accountable so they know they have to do the work ."
But Mackay called her students "resilient," noting they have adapted every step of the way.
"And hopefully next year it will even more normal than it is now."