Music teacher Scott Connuck is happy to have students back in his classroom in-person again. “Music is mainly a hands-on activity,” he said. Photo by Robert Gay

Patagonia schools have been in session, in person, for over a month now and, by all accounts, students and teachers are happy to be back. As Nate Porter, PUHS social studies teacher and Athletic Director, said, “Enthusiasm is high. Everyone from students to teachers seems relieved to be working together again.”

Student achievement, or loss, during the pandemic year of 2020/21 has been a concern nationwide, between the life stress and personal loss families and teachers have undergone and the experience of online school. 

Last spring Arizona students in Grades 3 – 8 and Grade 10 were required to take the State English Language Arts (ELA) and math assessments. The results of these tests show the majority of students not meeting proficiency in either area. Only 36% of  Grades 3 – 8 students at Patagonia Elementary School passed the ELA test, about the same percentage as passed in 2019, the last time students were tested. Only 19% passed the math portion, fewer than in 2019. 

The small number of students enrolled in the 10th grade at PUHS means that, for privacy reasons, results are not shared with the public. But it has been hard to compare results anyway, according to Patagonia Schools Supt. Kenny Hayes. The Arizona State Department of Education urged “extreme caution,” against interpreting the data saying, “Due to the dramatic and disproportionate impact COVID-19 had on student learning, inferences may be invalid.”

Hayes and his teaching staff have instead looked to benchmark and formative tests, which measure students’ attainment of specific skills and their progress throughout the school year. “The students are performing about where we expected them to after last year and are in line with students across the region and the state. These tests tell us where we need to focus our attention,” Hayes said. “Being back in the world after living through a pandemic at home has had its challenges. Students have dealt with trauma at home and in the world.”

A lot of emphasis this fall has been on social-emotional Learning. Dealing with feelings, expressing needs, and getting along can be taught and practiced. According to Porter, students in his history classes are relearning how to work with others in group settings and group projects. “It takes a little while to get used to being back together, to refresh our interpersonal and communication skills,” he said. 

In addition to learning to be together again, Tempest Smith, School Counselor, said that students must be emotionally ready to take in the academic information they encounter in school. “Last year, the stress of dealing with the pandemic, the isolation and distance learning made it hard for many kids to focus, learn and remember what they had learned. I am continuing the teaching of mindfulness, which helps us to be present in a situation, to focus, and to avoid the “fight or flight” reactions that stress induces.”

Patagonia music teacher Scott Connuck has observed that, for some students, being in school is a relief from a stressful home life. “I’ve seen a lot of kids who are so glad to be back. Some have lost family members, and parents have lost jobs,” he said. “Like everywhere, some of our students live in situations with domestic violence or substance abuse. Schools can be a safe place where they learn and receive empathy and appreciation for who they are.”

Connuck shared his enthusiasm about making music with students in person. “While you can teach music appreciation and theory from a distance, music is mainly a hands-on activity. We’re making music with our voices and rhythm instruments in all grades, and middle and high school students are learning to play the ukulele. The year ahead is filled with concerts, both the ones we’ll be giving and some we’ll be attending at the beautiful Opera House in Patagonia.” 

The soccer and volleyball seasons have begun at PUHS, as well as Middle School flag football and volleyball. Student athletes must either be vaccinated or must undergo regular testing for COVID19. High school home games commence in October. The public is welcome to attend, provided they wear face masks. 

The Patagonia School District requires that all high school students and anyone riding a school bus to wear a mask.

“In the lower grades, we had generally very good compliance with our strong recommendation to wear face masks, so a requirement wasn’t necessary there,” explained Hayes. 

“There’s been good cooperation with the mask requirement at PUHS. No one wants to go back to distance learning.” Porter reported. “You gain a greater appreciation for school when you can’t have it. We’re glad to be back.”