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West Hartford Preparing for Students to Return to School

Charter Oak International Academy Principal Juan Melián and staff members, all wearing masks, behind Plexiglas partitions in the school office. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford Public Schools teachers and staff returned to buildings on Aug. 31, and school begins for students on Sept. 8.

Hallways at Conard have been designated one-way only. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

A bevy of activity is taking place at public schools throughout West Hartford, as teachers and staff return to buildings that have largely been vacant since closing effective March 16, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic – for what was originally a planned two-week break that stretched into the remainder of the academic year.

In advance of the return of students beginning Sept. 8, teachers and staff are undergoing a week of orientation and training, which includes learning the new one-way traffic flows throughout buildings.

“We are looking forward to seeing the kids,” Charter Oak International Academy Principal Juan Melián said Monday. “We want to encourage an atmosphere of calm,” he said, knowing that there may be some apprehension on the part of students and their families as schools re-open after a nearly six-month break.

Melián stood in the school’s office which has now been outfitted with plexiglass “sneeze guards” that separate the office staff from visitors.

“We’re taking it one day at a time,” he said, acknowledging that everyone will be getting used to new procedures, that include the wearing of masks.

Charter Oak Pre-K teacher Emily McMurray said she has a total of 14 students, but because of the way the alphabetical split works out (A-K are Red Team and L-Z are Blue Team, with accommodations made so that students in the same household are part of the same cohort), she has five students in one group and nine in the other.

Charter Oak Pre-K teacher Emily McMurray (left) and paraprofessional Rosemery Akbar ready the classroom for the arrival of students next week. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

While the classroom may look a bit different from the way it did last year – McMurray and paraprofessional Rosemery Akbar were removing soft-touch items that cannot easily be cleaned, including clothing from the dolls – she said she’s doesn’t anticipate much apprehension from last year’s 3-year-old Pre-K students, all six of whom will. be back in her class this year.

One of Charter Oak’s art rooms has been turned into a storage room for rugs that were removed from classrooms, and some of the chairs and other furnishings were also removed and put into storage there to discourage congregating.

Rugs, and furniture to encourage congregating, are currently in storage at Charter Oak International Academy. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Outdoors there are picnic tables and other furniture to encourage as much outdoor teaching as possible, as well as providing space for students and teachers to eat outdoors.

Charter Oak’s learning garden will be used as outdoor classroom space. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Charter Oak’s learning garden will also be equipped with seating and serve as outdoor classroom space.

Classrooms are being rearranged to facilitate physical distancing, and while many classes have desks grouped in twos, Kindergarten paraprofessional Martha Gustafson explained that one desk will be used by a student on the Red Team, while the adjacent desk will be used for the student on the Blue Team, who attend on different days based on the West Hartford Public Schools hybrid model. The extra desk can be used to hold students’ belongings while no one is sitting there.

While desks in this kindergarten classroom at Charter Oak are grouped in twos, only one desk at a time will be used. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“We can’t wait,” Charter Oak first grade teacher Dawn Hyland said. “I hope Connecticut continues doing well so we can stay in school.”

Janet Fournier, the paraprofessional who works with Hyland’s class, agreed. “We’re so excited to have them back. We know they’ll be safe with us,” she said.

Paraprofessional Janet Fournier (left) and first grade teacher Dawn Hyland are both very excited about the return of students next week. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

At Conard High School, teachers were learning the new traffic patterns as most hallways and stairwells are now one-way only.

In art teacher Brigid Kennedy’s classroom, long tables have been replaced with individual desks to ensure physical distancing.

Julie Morisano, who has been teaching algebra 2 and geometry at Conard for more than a decade, said she is ready for the students to return.

“I’m very excited to start and have some sense of normalcy,” she said. “It will be different, but some routine will be good.”

Many of the teachers and staff also coach sports teams, and practices began on Saturday with conditioning and sport-specific skill training in cohorts of 10.

While football and indoor volleyball are considered higher risk sports that are not currently recommended by the Connecticut Department of Public Health to be played on an interscholastic basis, the initial practices are approved. At Conard, volleyball nets have been set up on the baseball field and practices are being held outdoors.

Conard soccer coach Adam Linker spreads cones out on the field to designate properly-distanced cohorts before the start of practice on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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Charter Oak International Academy Chinese teacher Niki Li prepares her classroom for the arrival of students. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Charter Oak International Academy. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

One-way arrow in the hallways at Charter Oak International Academy. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Outdoor seating at Charter Oak will be used as classroom space and for meals. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Masks are required on all West Hartford Public Schools campuses. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard office staff behind Plexiglas partitions.

Hallways at Conard have been designated one-way only. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Desks spread apart for greater distancing at Conard High School, replacing tables in this art room. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Desks spread apart for greater distancing at Conard High School. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hallways at Conard have been designated one-way only. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hallways at Conard have been designated one-way only. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Stairwells at Conard have been designated one-way only. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Stairwells at Conard have been designated one-way only. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Outdoor seating, like the tables at Conard, will be used for classroom space. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hallways at Conard have been designated one-way only. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard High School. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard volleyball players warm up before practice. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Volleyball nets have been set up on Conard’s baseball field so practice can be held outside. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Volleyball nets have been set up on Conard’s baseball field so practice can be held outside. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Volleyball nets have been set up on Conard’s baseball field so practice can be held outside. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard soccer coach Adam Linker spreads cones out on the field to designate properly-distanced cohorts before the start of practice on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Conard soccer players await the start of practice on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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