Students ready for return to hybrid learning

Several hundred students are slated to begin their first day of in-person learning this school term on Monday in the long-awaited hybrid education model, but for some of those children, they will be walking into the school for the first time after having nearly one year of school under their belt.

On Monday, Boston Public Schools (BPS) will return students for hybrid education in grades K1-3. Though some special education students have been in the buildings since December, Monday will mark the first time general education students have been back in buildings since last March. Many students, however, have also chosen to remain in remote education for the remainder of the year.

The pandemic has brought out all sorts of oddities and unique situations, but one of the strangest is the fact that many first-year kindergarten students will have gone to school a majority of their first year without actually having gone to school.

“Everyone says they feel relieved and confident and excited,” said Corey Zehngebot, who has a first-year kindergarten student headed to the Harvard Kent on Monday. “The teachers are excited and I know my daughter can’t wait. She’s excited to meet the other kids that she has only really met on Zoom since last fall…I’m super excited for her to finally be able to go and meet the teacher and her classmates.”

Zehngebot said they never really got to have that true “first day” experience that every parent and child files away as a cherished memory and a milestone in growing up. Instead, they’ve been by the school a couple of times to look into the kindergarten windows, and they’ve met the art teacher once during a supply pick-up day outside the school. 

“Meeting the art teachers was really just a coincidence, but it was this huge momentous occasion for my daughter,” said Zehngebot. 

Charlotte Maon is in the same situation. She has a first grader at the Warren Prescott School, but her son was also slated to join the W-P as a first-year kindergartner this year. That, of course, has been delayed, but Maon said Monday can’t come soon enough.

“I was afraid because he is very comfortable at home and having mommy and daddy around him,” she said. “Luckily the teachers on Zoom have been preparing them for going back to school. The teacher has been showing them the cubby and what the classroom looks like…My son is very excited to go back to school now. It wasn’t like that a few months ago. He wants to see what the classroom looks like and wants to play with his friends. He has friends, but they’re only virtual friends now.”

Both parents said they are not worried about the virus being spread in schools, and trust the science put out by the state and federal governments about in-person schooling being safe.

“These kids need it,” said Maon. “I was ready to send them Sept. 1. I have been waiting for this moment…Everyone has different thresholds, but my husband and I feel confident. We are in a country always afraid of liability and because of that everything is prepared very carefully and safely. I have no concerns.”

According to BPS statistics as of this week, a majority of Charlestown students have chosen hybrid learning or were automatically entered as hybrid. A total of 1,092 students in Charlestown have opted for in-person learning this spring, which amounts to 62.5 percent.

A smaller percentage, 656 students at 37.5 percent, have opted to remain remote through the school year and not return in-person.

Likewise, one of the virus metrics that was required was to be below 5 percent positivity citywide before any return, and at the moment the percent positive in Boston is 3.8 percent.

Students will return on a rotating schedule throughout the week in hybrid. On Monday and Tuesday, Group A will come to the school, and Group B will be remote. On Wednesday, everyone will go to remote school, but one Thursday and Friday, Group B will go in-person and Group A will be remote.

Harvard Kent Principal Jason Gallagher said they will be welcoming about 60 new students into the building in each group. With the special education students that are already there, that will account for about 150 kids in the building each day.

“We’re pretty excited,” he said. “We’ve been doing really well here the last couple of months with high-priority kids. We brought more back in February. Now we’re ready to open the school for more students. The teachers this week are working hard to make sure classrooms and schools are ready. We’re just dotting our I’s and crossing our T’s to be ready for Monday.

“It is interesting because the students have been together online since September, but many haven’t always met each other,” he continued. “We know there have been playdates and they’ve picked up supplies, but they have never met each other in school. We are curious to see how that plays out. It’s something that’s never happened in history.”

Like the Harvard Kent, the Warren Prescott is also very busy preparing the school for a return of students. Principal Michele Davis said they have set up their remote school schedule to seamless integrate in-person learning and they hope there aren’t any hiccups.

“Our schedule works both remotely and in person so this will aid in a smooth transition,” she said. “All rooms have air purifiers, sanitizer, and the appropriate cleaning supplies. 

“Social distancing signs are on display throughout the school and protocols will be reviewed and emphasized with students during the first week,” she continued. “Our main goals are safety and making sure that students feel welcomed and supported. The W-P staff have had great success connecting with students virtually, but can’t wait to welcome students in person.”

Both Gallagher and Davis said they plan to make it a special occasion, and have secured a red carpet at the entry door to welcome students and families back, or even for the first time ever.

Maon said she thinks it’s important to get her kids back in school, and she also said she still isn’t convinced it will really happen – that things have been delayed before. However, she said she remains hopeful and knows it is more important for kids like her young son to learn how to raise his hand, wait his turn to speak, and adhere to social queues that are only absorbed in person with other kids.

What she and Zehngebot are worried about is the potential loss of families that are leaving Charlestown, or shifting students to private schools that have been in-person for months.

“Kids should always come first and I don’t think kids really are first at BPS,” she said. “I’m worried that people are leaving the neighborhood because of the school situation. Warren Prescott was a hot school last year, and now it’s not a full class…Schools outside the city are open, and that’s what people need.”

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