Elementary students returned to all Anoka-Hennepin Schools this week, including Sand Creek Elementary. For now, the schools will follow a hybrid learning model, which puts fewer kids in the school buildings each day. Planning for a safe return to school during a pandemic was months in the making.
At Sand Creek, having students back in the building for the first time in six months was long overdue. Lots of new signs posted on doors, walls and floors remind students of the extra safety rules. Designated traffic patterns are controlled in the hallways and bathroom breaks are carefully scheduled to keep hands clean and students separated.
"When the kids arrive, all of that stress seems to go away because the kids are why we’re here," said Principal Paul Anderson. "And that first day of school was great!"
About one third of the students at Sand Creek Elementary are full time distance learning, meaning all of their instruction will happen at home via a computer. At Sand Creek, one teacher at each grade level is assigned exclusively to the full time distance learners. Those students are doing live video instruction and online assignments five days a week.
The other two thirds are split in half between hybrid learning groups A and B. The hybrid groups each attend in-person classes two days a week and complete distance learning from home the remaining three days. Group A is in the building Tuesday/Wednesday and group B attends class Thursday/Friday. Having only a third of the students in the building on any given in-person learning day allows more space for social distancing and makes it easier to exercise more stringent sanitation procedures.
"We’ve noticed a huge difference in how easy it is to teach routines with less kids in the building," said Anderson. "It is much easier to keep kids distanced when you have fewer students."
But there will be challenges. The extra precautions do take time out of the day. A longer than normal bathroom break or extended passing time, for example, may mean a shorter math or reading lesson. And teachers expect there to be some loss of learning since the beginning of the pandemic. Staff will be on the lookout for kids that need extra help. Some students may get individual or small group intervention to catch up and adjust to the changes.
"We know these students have been out of class and out of school for six months," said Anderson, "so their social and emotional well being is important to us. And we want to take enough time to get to know our students, get to know what the last six months were like. And we want to take that time even if it means trimming a little time out of instruction."