The beginning of another ‘new normal’ for schools welcoming students back to the classroom

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  • Johnny Ruffo gets a kiss from his dad, Mike, through their masks as Johnny gets ready to enter Henniker Community School on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Johnny Ruffo gets impatient while waiting for school to open with his older sister Olive at the Henniker Community School on Wednesday morning. Schools around the area opened with different models, from in-school to online and hybrid openings. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Johnny Ruffo and his older sister Olive wait patiently for the Henniker Community School to open on Wednesday morning, September 9, 2020. Schools around the area opened with different models from inschool to online and hybrid openings. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Jeffery Pike and Paige Dodsworth comfort their son, Liam, 6, as he greets last year’s kindergarten teacher Laura Mitchell as they enter Loudon Elementary School on Wednesday.

  • Paige Dodsworth comforts her son Liam, 6, as he greets last year's kindergarten teacher Laura Mitchell as they enter Loudon Elementary School on Wednesday, September 9, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Johnny Ruffo and his older sister Harper wait patiently for the Henniker Community School to open on Wednesday morning, September 9, 2020. Schools around the area opened with different models from inschool to online and hybrid openings. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Fiona Smith started her first day of kindergarten at Center Woods Elementary remotely on Sept. 9, 2020. Weare elementary schools are phasing in their opening, bringing students back slowly on alternating days until everyone is in person on Sept. 23. Courtesy photo—SAU24

Monitor Staff
Published: 9/9/2020 5:13:53 PM

At Loudon Elementary School on Wednesday morning, principal Catherine Masterson stood on the sidewalk by the drop-off circle, waving to parents and greeting students who arrived wearing face masks and backpacks. Kindergartners entering school for the first time hung back, holding on to their parents hands as they walked them to the building. Other students climbed out of their parents’ cars and hurried to greet their teachers.

Masterson said she was happy to have her elementary school students back in the building.

“This is why we do what we do,” Masterson said. “It’s fantastic.”

The Merrimack Valley School District had its first day of school in a hybrid model, Wednesday. Students at each school are divided into two groups that attend on different days. One group attends Wednesdays and Fridays, the other group attends Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the “off days” when students aren’t in school, they are learning remotely. Mondays are remote for everyone.

“There is an overwhelming sense of excitement to get kids back in the building. It’s been a long time since students have been in the classrooms in front of the teachers.” said Merrimack Valley superintendent Mark MacLean. “I know we’ve created additional time to prepare, but that creates additional time for worry too, in some ways.”

MacLean said one of the district’s main focuses for the year is making sure that both the hybrid students and the “extended learning community,” those only attending remotely, have equal access to learning. He also said being back in person is important for students’ social well-being, after being out of school since March.

“We recognize the roles schools play in our communities,” MacLean said, “whether it’s providing safe options, social connections or reestablishing peer mentoring relationships throughout the building.”

For SAU 24, learning models vary, bus schedules still in flux

SAU 24 schools in Hennicker, Weare, John Stark and Stoddard school districts also had their first day of school Wednesday. The two smallest schools, Henniker Community School and James Faulkner Elementary, both started in person.

Center Woods Elementary and Upper Elementary schools, Weare Middle School and John Stark Regional High School all started remotely, and will be returning to in-person learning slowly over the next few weeks. Weare schools are currently in the “yellow zone” of the district’s decision-making matrix, meaning several factors are making hybrid reopening a more dangerous option. This week, those factors are COVID-19 spread (Hillsborough County is experiencing 2 to 9 cases per 100,000) and gaps in staffing.

Schools in the Weare school district have been struggling to get enough employees in the areas of custodial and paraprofessional staff.

John Stark Regional High School is a week behind in bringing students back into the building because of a rooftop ventilation unit project that will bring continuous outdoor air into the school.

“The logistics to get us to this first day were tremendous and custodial and paraprofessional staffing continues to be a concern, but I am relieved to say we did it,” said Jacqueline Coe, Superintendent of SAU 24. “Students, parents, teachers, paras, custodians, secretaries, community members, bus drivers – everyone helped to get us to opening day. It was so wonderful to hear student voices in the buildings, whether in person or through a teacher’s computer.” Coe said that the first day is only the beginning of what will be a complex and ever-changing school year. She said several things still need to be figured out, like bus schedules, which had some last-minute changes and were late getting published.

“Bus routes and schedules in some districts will likely change over the next few weeks. We will communicate those changes out as soon as they are resolved,” Coe said.

The elementary schools that opened remotely today will phase to an in-person model by Sept. 22, while the middle and high schools plan to switch to a hybrid model Sept. 11. The district plans to use the experiences of Henniker Community School and James Faulkner Elementary to inform what their plan for bringing students back to school in the other towns.

Shaker Regional’s first cohort starts on an optimistic note

At the end of the day Wednesday, Shaker Regional School District superintendent Michael Tursi said the first day went “very smoothly” for all four schools, using a hybrid model for the first time.

“It’s the first day with new protocols in place, I am very pleased with how things have gone,” Tursi said.

Shaker Regional’s hybrid model divides students into two groups that attend school on different days. Cohort A attends Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while Cohort B attends Thursdays and Fridays. Students learn remotely when they aren’t in school, and Mondays are remote for everyone. Cohort C is a group of remote-only students.

Tursi visited all four schools in the district on Wednesday, to check in on how classes were going with Cohort A students.

“That was the best part of the day,” Tursi said. “It was such a pleasure to have our students back in the buildings. It really brings back what the purpose is in education.”

Shaker Regional School District uses Google Classroom and Google Meet for remote classes. Tursi said there were no tech issues reported on the first day.

“I am hoping we continue to be on that track, and we will be adjusting accordingly as necessary as the next few weeks move along,” Tursi said.

As the last few students entered the building at Loudon Elementary School Wednesday morning ready for the start of class, Masterson said she was pleased with how easy the first drop-off of the hybrid school year.

“It went amazingly smoothly, and that’s a great way to start the day,” Masterson said. “Let’s do it all again tomorrow.”


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