Menlo-Atherton co-athletic director Paul Snow is employing a trusty sports adage for the work the school’s staff has done to ready for students returning to class April 5.
“I think we’ve been just an amazing team to get this going, otherwise we wouldn’t have,” Snow said. “It’s been a group effort.”
Like many schools, Menlo-Atherton has been preparing for the return of students since the fall — minimizing and partitioning desks in classrooms, adding ventilation and air purifiers, and posting social distancing markers on the floor throughout the campus. Until now, however, these preparations have seemed largely in vain.
The M-A gymnasium has been breathing life back into the campus that, before the pandemic shuttered the entire Sequoia Union High School District and beyond, was bustling with 2,400 students daily. It isn’t sports events that have athletes coming and going from the gym these days, however, but the sports hub’s utilization as a study hall for the football team.
With a giant partition dividing the facility into two workspaces, the gym sees two groups at a time rotating through in an effort to maintain social distance. Before the pandemic, the football team’s study hall was held in small portable classrooms just to the west of Coach Parks Field.
But much has changed in the past year, of course. No one at M-A knows this better than lead plant manager Brien Oliver, chief of the campus custodial staff, who has worked at the Atherton campus since 1992.
“Since things kind of shifted it was just a different animal,” Oliver said. “I think for me, I like to know exactly how things are going to be, and everything was evolving.”
Now, Oliver and his crew are looking to prepare the gym for the next phase of campus life. With students set to return to campus April 5, the SUHSD is looking at the date as a soft target for returning sports teams to the indoor facilities as well. This is contingent on the contracting of a company that can help implement regular COVID testing for all student athletes.
Sequoia athletic director Melissa Schmidt said a deal could be finalized soon, possibly by the end of this week.
“My goal is to get us going indoors after (March 29-April 2) break … so I’m hoping we can roll out testing April 5,” Schmidt said.
M-A will return approximately 1,000 students, with a majority of students opting to continue the distance learning that has become synonymous with the American education system over the past year. The school will use an asynchronous learning system, with groups of students allowed on campus for certain days.
This will challenge teachers who will be tasked with combining the old with the new; the “old,” meaning actual in-person learning, with kids in the classrooms; the “new,” meaning the many students who will continue virtual learning via online classes. Teachers will be tasked with doing both at the same time, wearing headsets for the virtual learners while also having students in the classroom.
“The teachers will do all that while still teaching their Zoom classes for kids who are learning from home simultaneously,” said Eric Wilmurt, a Menlo-Atherton physical education teacher since 1995.
Now, Snow has the added task of trying to parse together a volleyball coaching staff after both the boys and girls varsity volleyball coaches tendered resignations during the pandemic.
Girls’ volleyball coach Lia Havili resigned less than a month ago, Snow said. While many volleyballers are staying busy with nonschool affiliated volleyball clubs, it might get a bit strange if student athletes show up for volleyball tryouts — with a target date to start competing in April — and no coach is there to run the program.
“I think the kids themselves are still not really certain what’s going on,” Snow said. “A lot of them are still completely in their clubs right now. They’re waiting for a coach and so are we.”
Snow said he’d prefer to hire from within.
“Otherwise, we’d be happy with some people looking to fill some shoes and just getting the girls through league,” Snow said.
Snow and fellow co-athletic director Steven Kryger have been more fortunate in the basketball ranks, though. Both varsity coaches — boys head coach Mike Molieri and girls head coach Steve Yob — are intent on returning.
“It’s huge to have stability and their experience,” Snow said. “They’ve been working with kids in the offseason. It’s not like they’re a hundred percent fresh … we still have to do tryouts … but having them back and not starting from square one was huge.”
As students return to campus, the most important team on campus may just be Oliver’s.
The M-A custodial staff may have had not nearly as many students to clean up after over the past year, but they’ve remained stalwart. Scrubbing and cleaning everything from desks, to surfaces, to doorknobs, the routine figures to be one of the most significant pages from the pandemic playbook going forward.
Last summer, the school readied for the potential start of the school year by bringing in HVAC specialists, and also power washing just about any surface possible.
While getting students back into the classrooms last fall proved to be untenable, the staff of M-A is finally sounding, sincerely, as though the SUHSD is turning a corner.
“It’s kind of a ghost town but slowly life is starting to come back,” Wilmurt said.