Many things have been lost during the pandemic, and unfortunately one of those things was in-person school. Teachers, kids, and parents have all had to adapt to a brand-new style of teaching and learning through remote education. Everyone has come together and done the very best they can to support this remote learning environment, and now Tumwater School District is excited to start reopening by welcoming students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first and second grades to a hybrid model of in-person learning. Monday February 1 was the first official day of school, and the district is already seeing the positive impact of bringing kids back to a hybrid in-person learning environment. The phase-in plan adds grades 3-6 starting February 18 and then grades 7-8 on March 1. High school dates have not been announced and to do so requires the transmission rate in Thurston County to be 200 or below per 100,000 over a two-week period.
Laurie Wiedenmeyer has been with Tumwater School District for 20 years and is currently serving in her third year as the Director of Communications and Community Relations. The shutdown brought a whole new set of challenges and obstacles when it came to ensuring all students were getting the very best education during a global pandemic. It has been a huge undertaking to develop a successful learning model for virtual students during this time, and Laurie is incredibly proud of the staff and parents that have rallied to get through this together. “It has been an awesome community effort,” Laurie says. Principal Jon Halvorson of Tumwater Hill Elementary has been equally impressed with the comradery and commitment from both families, teachers, and staff as they navigated this new territory. “There have been so many barriers they have continued to overcome, and the hard work has paid off,” he says.
With COVID-19 cases on the decline, families in the district were given the option to continue remote learning or start a hybrid option, which brings students to school for in-person learning two days per week, and learning remotely for three. The district encouraged families to make the decision that best fit their needs and will continue to support fully remote learners through reopening. For those that have chosen the hybrid option, the school district is strictly following a series of guidelines to keep everyone safe. All families commit to screen their child for symptoms and check for a fever before leaving the house. When they arrive at school, they are again screened for symptoms and have their temperatures taken before entering school.
To minimize the total number of people on site at one time, children come to school in-person two days a week, either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays are reserved specifically for a deep clean of the classrooms, restrooms, frequently touched areas, and hallways to ensure health and wellness of staff and students is maintained.
Health and Safety is Priority
Cleaning and sanitizing have become vital in every industry, and in-person school will be no different. It takes a dedicated team to keep everyone healthy under these circumstances, and these essential workers have made all the difference in reopening. “I am incredibly proud of the heavy lifting of our food service workers who have worked throughout the closure to make sure families were receiving nutrition along with our custodial, buildings & grounds staff to make things safe and clean for everyone,” Laurie says. Essential workers like this are what have made the reopening possible and will help keep the schools open for students as they move forward.
Students and teachers are doing their part to keep things clean and safe as well. All individuals are wearing their masks in and outside of class and are washing hands before/after recess, and frequently throughout the day. Kids are kept with their cohorts on the playground and are practicing social distancing – desks six feet apart, traveling through the school, lunchtime, and on the playground. With these protocols in place, parents and teachers alike can have peace of mind knowing the risk of spread is being kept to a minimum.
There has been a wide array of feelings about coming back, which is why the school district and its staff are working hard to make everyone feel comfortable and safe. After the first week back, Jon is hopeful this will be more than possible. “Having half our students back, we are seeing this is doable and that it can really happen,” he shares. “We are going to get better and better at serving our kids through this.”
The best part about coming back has been seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces. “They were so thrilled to be here,” Jon says. One kindergartener said, “This is the wonderfulest day ever!” when asked about coming back to school. A second grader was so excited to share all the work that had been accomplished during the day. And most importantly, everyone was so happy to be together. One kindergarten teacher said, “What a joy to be with kids again.”
So many children have been missing their friends and teachers, and now that they are back it is easy to see how impactful a school community is in a child’s life. The school district and schools will continue to make every effort to keep schools safe so that all grades can slowly return. Before long, everyone is hopeful that all students will be back in school and able to share in the joy of an in-person learning experience. With such a strong collaborative community effort, Tumwater School District is sure they will be able to welcome back their older grades safely and effectively soon.