With teachers fully vaccinated and many families ready to get back to the “real” classroom, students in grades 4-8 returned to the Eliot School on Monday, March 15, to join students from the K-3 classes that went back on March 1.
The students are in a hybrid in-person mode, meaning they will go to school in person for two days, and then go remotely for three days – which is the plan at the moment and Boston Public Schools could change it next month to five days a week. Some families, however, have opted out of in-person learning and will remain remote for the rest of the year due to safety concerns.
Eliot Principal Traci Griffith Walker, a Charlestown resident, said the return of the Eliot is significant on its own, but even more so because it was the first school to close as the COVID crisis began to descend on Boston one year ago. As such, returning a full contingent of kids in grades K-8 to the campus felt like the easing of a long and hard-fought war against the pandemic.
“It’s a big day,” she said. “It’s been one year last week. When we first closed, we thought it would be a few weeks of remote and then we’d all be back together…Our staff was vaccinated last weekend. We’re really excited and everyone feel great to return.”
Outside on Monday, it was nearly in the single-digit temperatures, and everyone was masked and cautious in keeping their distance. Most everyone was also freezing, but it couldn’t squelch the joy felt by students, faculty and families as they dropped their kids off at the front door of the Commercial Street facility for the first time in more than a year.
There were tears – though they froze on the spot.
But there were also a lot of smiles as many of those gathered hadn’t seen each other in more than a year except on Zoom. Some students hadn’t even set food in the actual school building, though they had nearly a year of schooling at the Eliot under their belts.
“I think for us the most important part of the day today will be joy – joyful learning and joyful social-emotional healing for all of us,” said Griffith. “The first thing we’ll do is just let them greet each other in-person and talk to each other.”
Teachers were vaccinated over the weekend for the Eliot School, as well as the Harvard Kent and Warren Prescott, at a vaccine clinic sponsored by NEW Health in Charlestown and the North End. Besides that, some teachers were able to be vaccinated at the BPS vaccine site in Mattapan. That has contributed to a better feeling of safety and ease for teachers, Griffith said, as they embark on a new way of teaching kids in front of them live and kids that have remained home on Zoom.
As Griffith and her staff moved inside from the cold to have a socially-distanced rally to start the first day back, she said the highlight for her were the smiles and joy.
“This really was joyful,” she said. “You can see the children’s’ smiles in their eyes. For some kids, they have never been inside the building. There are seventh-graders and fifth-graders here today who never entered our building until now and only knew us through Zoom. I’m so happy for them.”