Grand Island Public Schools Superintendent Tawana Grover said Thursday was the “most normal” she has felt since March, when school moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All students resumed school either in-person or online via the district’s virtual school Thursday morning. Students in kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades began school Wednesday.
Grover said when she saw the first student walk in the doors Thursday morning at Walnut Middle School, she nearly cried tears of joy seeing how excited they were to come back to school.
“We are so excited to see our kids back in the buildings and we hope to see them as many days as we can in person and online with our virtual school,” she said. “When it comes to our students, there is still a lot to learn, but we have to try to keep school open. We have to try to keep kids connected and continue to offer choices. Whatever it takes, we are willing to reimagine so that we can reach our graduate profile and reach our vision for students who thrive.”
Walnut Principal Rod Foley echoed Grover and said it was “incredible” to have kids back in the building.
He said a building is “just brick and mortar,” but it comes alive when students are there.
“Having them back has just been a boost to the soul,” Foley said. “As I talked to staff last spring and over the summer, they labored through that initial e-learning and learned a lot of things. But they so missed kids and not being able to say goodbye. To see their eyes light up as kids walk in the doors has been amazing.”
Foley said while teachers were excited to welcome their students back to school, students also were “super excited” to be back in school.
“I have yet to meet a kid who was not excited to come back,” he said.
“I have been so proud of our kids on the first day (for sixth graders on Wednesday) and again this (Thursday) morning. We have had almost zero issues with masks. Everybody has been super compliant. Kids are listening and following instructions. They are just happy to be here. They are happy to be where their friends are at and it is just good to be back in school — it is good for everybody,” Foley said.
Grover said the first day of school typically brings a list of procedures that must be implemented, but this school year is different because of COVID-19.
Foley said during passing periods, Walnut staff is encouraging students to walk single file, spaced 6 feet apart to maintain social distancing.
“We are encouraging social distancing and we have our 6-feet stickers in the cafeteria and different places in the building, trying to make sure that kids are social distancing,” he said. “We know that they are not always going to get to stay 6 feet apart, which is why the masks are so important.”
Foley said Walnut also is requiring students to wash their hands before lunch and during other times of the school day. He added each classroom is sanitized prior to students entering it.
As part of Walnut’s instructional process the past four years, Foley said the school has focused on “teaming” among students in its classrooms and has made necessary classroom adjustments to keep this in place in light of the virus.
“What we have done is we have developed some classroom setups that will allow us to do our teaming pieces and keep kids active in that teaming process, but still put them 6 feet apart from each other,” he said. “It will be great for us to continue the instructional work we’ve been doing and still be able to keep kids safe. They (teachers) really worked hard on room setups and adjusting angles of desks so that the kids are as distanced as possible.”
Grover said a number of district patrons have asked her what worries her about with schools reopening. She said she wants all GIPS buildings to remain open.
“I think it is going to take all of us working together as a community to understand that the choices we make inside our school buildings and outside in our community will help keep our schools open,” she said.
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