Noli Indian School students return to campus

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Incoming Noli Indian School senior Frank Moreno made his way to various stops to complete his registration July 29. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Special to Valley News

Noli Indian School students were welcomed back for in-person classes after more than a full school year spent on distance learning. Registration took place a week before the start of classes, and it went as smoothly and effortlessly as anticipated.

In the past, registration took place on the first day of school but allowing students to visit the campus with parents or guardians before starting the semester had many advantages. Staff helped the students obtain their school handbook, schedule, PE clothes, Chromebook, a planner, a student photo ID card and information on transportation, if needed. Student and Parent Portal access was provided with assistance from Office Manager Raeann Wood. Attendance Clerk Millie Arres helped with the completion of emergency cards and supplied contact information.

After checking in with staff member Tanya Briones-Rivera and receiving a campus map, incoming senior Frank Moreno made his way to the various stops to complete his registration. Accompanied by his grandfather, Robert Moreno Sr., he was re-enrolling after two years attending schools elsewhere.

“I really enjoyed the culture classes here and I want to try football,” Frank, 17, said about his reasons for returning to Noli. He said it took a lot of self-discipline to keep up with things while distance learning and he was looking forward to being in a classroom setting again.

Frank plans to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduation but has an interest in agriculture and would like to have his own farm in the future. Robert served in the Marines for four years and said the experience put him on a path of responsibility “plus you get to serve your country, which is honorable.”

Culture teacher Tashina Miranda Ornelas has two children attending Noli this year, sixth grader Kolókolomay Témanxwanvish and freshman Daigan Cyhan. She said teaching from home during the pandemic gave her an opportunity to be with her children more, which she enjoyed. Miranda Ornelas has taught at Noli since 2005 and said the advance registration process is a welcome change.

“It really helps prepare the students,” she said. “I also like that parents can come in and be part of the process.”

The school, located at the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians Reservation, serves more than 110 students in grades 6 through 12. In a letter to parents and guardians, Principal Donovan Post explained what will be a little different from what students had before the March 2020 shutdown of the campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would like to thank each and every one of you for all the support you provided your students during the lockdown,” he said. “I understand how difficult it was to balance work and school for several children in your household while we were on the distance learning model. Now that the school is reopening, it is my hope that life for you and your students will get back to a state of pre-pandemic normal.”

A few campus changes will greet students as the cafeteria is now a 24-ft. by 10-ft. snack bar type building with a pass-through window. Lunch Attendant Briones-Rivera will be helping serve meals in to-go containers for students to enjoy in an outdoor setting. Noli’s Business Manager Genna Santini said eventually the building can be utilized as a student store, after all restrictions have eased and a new cafeteria can be built. The previous cafeteria has been repurposed into a new science classroom.

Another change is the addition of a 36-ft. by 64-ft. triple wide portable building that has been divided in half to house a teacher’s lounge on one side and the School Resource Officer and a dedicated nurse’s office with a quarantine room on the other. The transportation department has been moved off-campus to the old Soboba casino, where the fleet of buses are parked.

All classrooms have received new desks that can be connected for group collaboration and activities or kept separate to meet social distancing requirements, which is how they will be utilized for now.

While Elizabeth LaCella has been a familiar face on campus as a teacher for nearly 15 years, her role as Academic Coordinator started during the pandemic-related closure. She is the one who streamlined the registration process and Santini said it will help students be less stressed on the first day of classes. LaCella credits its success to having such a strong team partnership all week long.

“It was an ultimate success and something we will continue to use for years to come,” Post said. “The students are prepared with everything they need, which is a good way to jump-start a new school year.”

Post said that academically speaking, educators everywhere expect that most students will be about two years behind due to the pandemic. “We did everything we could to provide rigor in the classes but we know we’ve got to bridge some learning gaps, especially in reading and math,” he said.

He said the difficulty will be in teaching at the appropriate grade level while trying to fill in any potholes in learning the students may have. Post said this can be accomplished through scaffold learning, which comprises many techniques that allow extra support to students. “Being a smaller school helps, too,” Post said. “Our afterschool tutoring will be needed more than ever.”

Post said that one upside to the pandemic-caused school shutdown was that the teachers and administration at Noli developed a lot of parental involvement. He said this coming year will put an emphasis on teamwork more than ever. LaCella said having Parent Portal access set up during registration will be another advantage to keeping the strong lines of communications open.

Post let families know what to expect when school returns to five days a week full-time face-to-face instruction. Three minutes have been added to each passing period. “This was designed to give students more time to wash hands and sanitize” with several handwashing and liquid hand sanitizing stations set up throughout the campus.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines will be followed, and students will be required to keep 3 feet of distance from others. The school will have an extended late start on Wednesdays so the school can undergo a deep cleaning, which will also take place after school is dismissed on Fridays.

All buses will be deep cleaned before and after students are transported. Temperatures will be taken before getting on a bus and before entering the campus. Any student with a 100-degree or higher temperature will not be allowed on the bus or school grounds.

Masks will be required while students are indoors but can be removed while outdoors during passing periods, breaks and PE classes. No outside food or drink will be allowed on campus during school hours, however refillable water bottles will be allowed.

“It is the hope of the administration that these rules will only be needed for the start of the school year,” Post said. “Noli Indian School has two top priorities: First, we want to ensure the highest level of academic rigor that we can provide to our students, and second, we want to do everything we can to ensure the safety and welfare of our students while they are at school.”