Willow students, teachers happy to be together as hybrid learning begins

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Willow students, teachers happy to be together as hybrid learning begins

March 02, 2021 - 20:32
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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.

Sully Blasgen's teacher gave the class time to draw and he worked on the Titanic. Afterward, his white board was used for math problems. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

Sully Blasgen's teacher gave the class time to draw and he worked on the Titanic. Afterward, his white board was used for math problems. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

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.

First grade teacher Margie D'Astici helps Cori Brown turn on the water so she can start her hand washing. Each student will wash their hands before starting their day. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

First grade teacher Margie D'Astici helps Cori Brown turn on the water so she can start her hand washing. Each student will wash their hands before starting their day. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

“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.

Taryn Welsh counts with an abacus that is part of her math tool kit. The first grader returned to the classroom on Monday. She and her classmates will be together mornings on the hybrid learning schedule.

Taryn Welsh counts with an abacus that is part of her math tool kit. The first grader returned to the classroom on Monday. She and her classmates will be together mornings on the hybrid learning schedule. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

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.

Samantha McCullough, a second grader at Willow School, hands in her self-certified health screening paper as a District 153 staff member takes her temperature at the start of the school day. With her is her dad, John McCullough. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

Samantha McCullough, a second grader at Willow School, hands in her self-certified health screening paper as a District 153 staff member takes her temperature at the start of the school day. With her is her dad, John McCullough. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

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.