Monday was a busy day at Willow School in Homewood as it reopened to students for the first time in nearly a year.
Everyone had smiles on their faces — behind the required masks — and there was a definite sense of joy in the building.
The hybrid learning schedule means students returning to school will spend a half-day with the teacher and a half-day doing assignments at home.
There are plenty of new procedures in place, and both students and staff were doing their best to follow the protocols that started with temperature checks either on the bus or at the front door.
Each student is now walked to their classroom by a Willow staff member. In the hallways, markers have been laid down to remind students of the 6-foot distance rules. The water fountains are not available — students bring water bottles. Snack time is not on the daily agenda. Neither is lunch.
“They had in their heads what kindergarten was, but it’s going to be different,” first grade teacher Margie D’Astici said Monday as she anticipated seeing her students in class for the first time. “Last week I took pictures showing how (the space is) taped off. I tried to give them the information.”
As soon as students enter the classroom, they wash their hands before finding their desks. They each have their own supplies now — no more sharing.
For first graders that meant a bag with books for reading class, a box called a math toolkit filled with cards, an abacus and a host of other disks and Lego-like blocks for counting, and a yoga mat so a student can sit on the floor in their specific area taped off around their desk. Gone are the days of moving around the classroom or sitting on a communal rug for reading time.
Once everyone was in their places, D’Astici turned on her speakers so the first graders could dance to the song “Celebrate Good Times” by Kool & The Gang. The beat got some students out of their chairs as others tapped their feet to the bouncy beat.
The teacher said although she’s been with these students via computer since late August, she told her students she picked this song because “I’m celebrating that we’re all together.”
Her classroom assistant, Tanya Thomas, agreed.
“I’m so happy to be back to school. I know every one of them,” having worked with the students on independent learning projects throughout this school year.
First grader Trey Nelson said learning at home was good, but being at school “will be fun” as he gave thumbs up. Classmate Jaxson Bernath said he liked learning at home “a little bit,” but being at school is better “because I’m with my friends and my teachers.”
Only about 40 percent of the 1,900 students in District 153 are returning to school. The majority will continue the remote learning plan. Willow and Churchill Schools opened Monday. James Hart School orientation is being conducted over three days this week with classes resuming March 8.