“Holly, we’re so glad to see you!”
“Declan, come in! Everybody, raise your hand if you know Declan.”
As students who had been learning remotely all year came back to Hildreth Elementary School for the first time Monday, their teachers welcomed them with warmth and enthusiasm. Twenty-eight children arrived for their first in-person school day since last March. Even with their masks in place, some looked excited, while others at first seemed hesitant or confused.
Monday, April 5, was the date set by Jeffrey C. Riley, the state education commissioner, for elementary schools to resume full-day classes. Until this week, HES children left school at the end of morning classes, ate lunch at home, and had their science and social studies classes in the afternoon via Zoom.
Left: On his first day back for in-person learning, John Bora Caglar is accompanied to class by Principal Josh Myler. Center: Declan Magnuson listens as third-grade teacher Amy Bassage explains how to turn in assignments. Right: Kylie Nguyen jumps over a paper heart in physical education class in preparation for a Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser. (Photos by Lisa Aciukewicz)
Monday was also the sixth and last date when HES students could switch from remote to in-person learning for the rest of the 2020–21 school year. However, families can still choose to have their children switch in the other direction—from in-person to remote—at any time. With the latest batch of returnees, about 80% of HES students are now back in the classroom for the full day.
In general, the morning arrival seemed to go smoothly, with no more than the usual issues: “Your shoe’s untied, sweetie. Be careful.” “Maybe your jacket’s in the lost-and-found over there.”
Among the younger grades, there was a certain amount of milling around. With five new arrivals in their first-grade classes, some children in Mrs. Chapman’s and Mrs. Hopkins’ rooms found their desks had been moved to accommodate the additional students and still keep everyone 3 feet apart. But by 8:50 a.m. fourth-graders in Mrs. Hurley’s room were already seated at their desks, some with their hands waving in the air to answer a question. And Mrs. Salmon’s students were busy at their iPads.
Boys and girls in Mrs. Kelley’s morning gym class were spread out across the gym, each in a 6-foot by 8-foot square marked out on the floor with colored tape. Within their squares, students leaped, ran in circles, and did other warmup exercises. Then each child grabbed a jump rope from a rack and followed the teacher outside and across the street to the library walkway. Before school opened for the day, Mrs. Kelley had positioned 8-inch colorful plastic dots about 10 feet apart along the asphalt walkway. At that distance, kids could remove their masks and jump rope for a good cardio workout.
Monday morning was chilly and windy, but by 9:30 a.m. small groups of children were already having mask breaks under the white tents on the field in front of the library. Some had their masks off while they ate snacks or sipped juice or water. But those who were racing around to burn off extra energy kept their masks in place.
Principal Josh Myler said lunch would also take place under the tents, now that children will stay at school for the full day. Many will likely bring their lunches from home. But Myler said Chef Paul Correnty and his staff will also offer complimentary bagged lunches, sometimes with warm entrees such as pizza or noodle cups.
Step by step, with many precautions still in place, life in the elementary school is moving back toward normal.
From left: Miller Reichenbach, Wes Reichenbach, and Shane Moran head into Hildreth Elementary School from the bus. Monday, April 5, was the first full day of in-person learning since March 2020, when the pandemic forced the schools to go to online and then a hybrid model of learning. (Photo by Lisa Aciukewicz)