The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District recently took the first step in returning its students and staff to in-person learning. On Feb. 1, nearly 11 months after virtual learning began, the district’s elementary schools began a hybrid instructional model where each student who elects to be in the universal model is in the building for two days a week.
Students are assigned to one of two cohorts and go to the school building on either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, depending on their cohort. Students who chose to be in the fully virtual model are continuing to attend school online everyday, with some teachers assigned to the fully virtual model.
The school district has implemented a comprehensive list of coronavirus safety guidelines that students and staff are expected to follow while in the building, including physical distancing, masking, eating lunch in classrooms, limited bathroom capacity, and alphabetically assigned pick-up and drop-off times for parents who drive their kids to school.
With cohorts and all these safety protocols, school is not the same as it was last February, but a lot of things are familiar. Students get to see half of their classmates in person on days when they are in school, and they still get to go to all of their classes.
Robin Gaffaney, a first grade teacher at Sunset Ridge, was happy to see her students back in the classroom the day they returned to in-person learning.
“Personally, I felt very excited, just because these little kids are six and seven and I feel like having them in here and getting to see each other, even if we’re six feet apart and masked, was great for them socially, emotionally, and even academically, said Gaffaney.”
The transition has been exciting, but also mostly smooth and efficient. Teachers and staff ran through different scenarios before students returned to the building and the district set up safety materials everywhere. There are dots on the floor for distancing and lots of hand sanitizer and cleaning solution.
Because MCPASD is returning to the buildings later than many other schools, the district was able to learn from other schools that returned to in-person instruction earlier. MCPASD was able to implement strategies that have been successful at other schools before opening the doors to its students.
Elementary students have been very compliant with COVID safety protocols, keeping their masks on and making sure to stay six feet apart in the classrooms and hallways. “They walk down the hall and they automatically put their arms up,” Gaffaney said. “They’re so good about it, you just teach them one time. Once you teach them the protocol, they’re very good with that stuff.”
Gaffaney’s first grade students are learning together most of the day now, both “zoomers and roomers.” Students whose cohort is at home for the day Zoom into the classroom for a few classes each day and complete some work asynchronously, but each week they phase in new classes to Zoom into live. Eventually, all learning will be synchronous with students in the classroom and at home getting instruction from their teacher at the same time.
Even though they have returned to being in the building half of the days, students at the elementary schools will still be missing out on a few things that COVID safety prohibits. There are not any assemblies, hundredth day celebrations between classrooms, or reading buddies from a different grade, but teachers are working hard to make sure that even though they’re restricted to the classroom, kids are having as much fun as possible.
After a successful elementary school transition, the middle and high schools can look forward to returning to school in a hybrid model in the next few weeks, with the middle schools returning on Feb. 22 and the high school following on March 11.