This year when Garces Memorial High School students go home for Thanksgiving break, it marks the beginning of a very long winter break. The high school is one of many campuses in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno that planned for an extended winter break that begins at Thanksgiving instead of Christmas.

“The reasoning behind ending the semester early was the possibility of a (COVID-19) spike coming during the holiday season because of the flu and possibility of large gatherings,” said Garces Principal Myka Peck.

That means Wednesday marked a day of preparation for finals on campus. About 95 percent of students at the high school opted to return for in-person learning when the school opened. Those students spent the day in some untraditional spaces, such as the chapel or outdoors, to finish up assignments or attend the final day of lectures with their teachers before four days of finals.

Students will wrap up finals next Tuesday and come back Jan. 11. To make up for it, students will stay in school longer this year, too: The final exam of the year is June 11. Peck said the plan was put together for the safety of families and staff.

"Here at Garces Memorial, we felt this was the best plan to keep our families safe knowing there would likely be families traveling," Peck said. "Now that finals are upon us with COVID cases rising, we now get to finish the semester and keep families, faculty and staff healthy and safe during the coming holidays."