On-campus learning labs begin at La Jolla Cluster schools to support at-risk students

Learning labs have begun at La Jolla High and Muirlands Middle schools.
Learning labs have begun at La Jolla High and Muirlands Middle schools with groups of students supervised on campus as online learning continues.
(File / La Jolla Light)

Two of the five schools in the San Diego Unified School District that make up the La Jolla Cluster recently opened in-person learning labs to some of their students, and three are preparing to launch theirs.

In learning labs, students participate in online learning on campus in supervised cohorts. The labs are offered to students who lack reliable internet access at home, are receiving below-standard grades, have disabilities and are not meeting special-education goals, struggle to learn English or need social or emotional support, such as homeless students, foster youths and those who are chronically absent.

The labs are the district’s effort to increase in-person support for students while schools are closed to regular instruction.

These students “have the need for connectivity, to do face-to-face instruction, to get social-emotional support,” San Diego Unified board member Mike McQuary told the La Jolla Cluster Association at its Feb. 18 meeting.

He said the labs are “an effort to provide for the urgent needs of the students that require this onsite support and services.”

Tavga Bustani, chief of leadership and learning for the district, said the learning labs are open up to five days a week and are supervised by “a visiting teacher or noncertificated personnel.”

The cohorts can have up to two adults and up to 14 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. In grades six through 12, the cohorts are allowed 10 students.

“During this time, online learning is occurring for all students,” Bustani said.

The labs are different from the limited on-campus instruction that has been taking place since October as part of what the district calls Phase 1 of its plan for reopening campuses from the COVID-19 shutdown. In that program, at-risk students participate in appointment-based learning on campus in groups limited to six students in pre-K to third grade, eight students in grades four and five and four students in grades six to 12, Bustani said.

“The appointment-based learning occurs after the online learning concludes, supported by staff and educators who have volunteered to work onsite,” she said. “The focus during that time is really small group instruction tailored to the needs of students.”

The five La Jolla campuses in the San Diego Unified School District are seeing drops in student enrollment as their principals reported current and projected numbers at the Feb. 18 meeting of the La Jolla Cluster Association.

The first group of learning lab students was welcomed at La Jolla High School on Feb. 18, Principal Chuck Podhorsky said. The lab is supervised by one teacher during the time when teachers are giving direct instruction to classes online.

During the time when students are working independently or meeting with the teacher individually as needed, case managers are present to support those students, Podhorsky said.

LJHS is welcoming two more groups to learning labs the week of Feb. 22, he said. “We’re super excited to see students on campus,” he added.

Muirlands Middle School Principal Jeff Luna said his campus opened a learning lab Feb. 17 and another is scheduled to open Monday, Feb. 22.

“We’ll continue to roll those out as we acquire those resources for staffing to continue to invite more and more students onto campus,” Luna said.

Bird Rock Elementary School Principal Andi Frost said “we have been expanding Phase 1 bit by bit. We have had 30 students on campus [last] week for Phase 1 and we are opening two learning labs” Feb. 22.

Nona Richard, principal of Torrey Pines Elementary, said the school has had “one substitute who’s been doing an all-day Phase 1 experience for students since the beginning of January. We also have a ... teacher and two paraeducators who have been supporting students in person since October, and we were fortunate enough to bring on two additional substitute teachers who are working with small groups of students.”

Richard said a learning lab will begin Feb. 22, with a second starting the following week.

La Jolla Elementary School Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink said “we’ve had a large number of students participating through our Phase 1, so we’re not quite as quick as the other two [elementary] schools” at starting learning labs.

She said she is meeting with teachers to plan for the labs and hired a visiting teacher to help monitor students in their work.

Hasselbrink said she is looking to start one learning lab for kindergarten through second grade and another for older students Monday, March 1. Teachers are being asked to submit a prioritized list of students.

— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Kristen Taketa contributed to this report.