ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More than 150 days into the school year, teacher Stephanie Davy kept repeating the same cheerful greeting to students:
“Hi — Who are you?”
Davy couldn’t recognize most teenagers in masks at West Mesa High School because it was only the second day of in-person learning in Albuquerque Public Schools. For 13 months after the COVID-19 pandemic closed buildings in March 2020, instruction had happened fully remotely, with students showing up as colorful bubbles on a screen because nobody turned on their cameras. Others never logged in at all.
After months of debate about how and when to reopen schools, Albuquerque returned to full-time instruction on April 5. But unlike other districts, it reopened all grades at all buildings all at once. And it let USA TODAY follow a teacher for a day to show what a return to high school looks like.
Widespread concerns about students’ academic decline and social isolation are driving the push to return to full-time instruction nationwide. Large districts have struggled the most with reopening buildings, but with vaccinations up and infections down, many are bringing back students for five days a week of instruction this month, mostly in waves led by younger grades.
Albuquerque’s rapid switch to offering full, in-person learning for its 75,000 students portends the benefits and challenges ahead for other large districts, particularly when it comes to opening high schools.
Despite mitigation tactics and many…