West Hartford Public Schools teachers and staff returned to buildings on Aug. 31, and school begins for students on Sept. 8.
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.
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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford! Click the blue button below to become a supporter of We-Ha.com and our efforts to continue producing quality journalism.