Students, teachers happy to be back in school
There’s a muted excitement in the air as a yellow school bus approaches the Abbotsford School District for the first time since the middle of March. Students soon file out, and while they are all wearing masks, their eyes show the true story — joy and relief at being back.
It’s a different scene from years past, where students would often trudge from a school bus with a resigned sigh as they prepared for another year. But, as with all things in 2020, COVID-19 makes even the mundane seem miraculous.
But there was nothing mundane about getting students back in classrooms at Abbotsford or Colby. And while it might seem like a miracle made in-person instruction possible, it was weeks of hard work on the parts of school boards, teachers and administrators.
That hard work all paid off as the first week of the 2020-21 school year is now officially in the books.
“The first day was certainly rocky as we learned how to navigate the new normal. Things have gotten smoother since then,” Abbotsford High School principal Ryan Bargender says. “There is no manual, a lot of things have been trial and error. The staff and students have been extremely flexible, and have been working together to ensure we can stay in school as long as possible.”
Teenagers are often seen as rebellious, but high school students at Colby and Abbotsford have been setting the example and telling younger students to follow rules and safety guidelines.
“I had never thought that my senior year would be starting in such an abnormal way but it is so exciting to be back at school for my final year,” Abbotsford senior Mya Ruesch said about the first week of school. “My first day consisted of hearing all the new rules and regulations that we would have to follow in order to stay in school. The best part is getting to go down to the elementary school to help out in the second grade classroom. I have looked forward to that all summer.”
Ask any student, and there’s a common theme to the return of in-person instruction — gratitude and happiness.
“It feels good to be back in school. For as much as I hate being there, I really think I missed being there for once,” said Colby High senior Olivia Vollrath.
Her comments were echoed by Abbotsford senior Angel Diaz. He added that, although the virtual learning allowed him to get his lessons done, it was nothing compared to getting taught by teachers in a classroom setting. “It feels good to be back in school honestly. I’ve been waiting to be back in school because being at home with a lot of free time and doing things over and over wasn’t fun. I prefer in person so I can be with my friends,” Diaz said. “My first day went by surprisingly fast. The best part was seeing my friends and some of the teachers.”
Familiar friends and teachers are about the only thing normal these days at both schools. In order to ensure that classroom instruction continues, both school districts are enforcing face coverings through the first month of school, along with social distancing reminders on the floors and sanitary stations in classrooms.
At the Colby School District, several new changes have been put in place, including 90 minute “block” scheduling for classes and the segregating of students into “pods” for lunch.
“Trying to find the right balance of instruction without wearing out the kids during a 90 minute class is tricky, but I figure after a couple of weeks we will get the hang of it,” said Colby band director Nathan Larsen.
The changes have been hard, but COVID- 19 has also led to new innovations with how teachers use technology to expand upon lessons and educate.
“On the bright side, COVID has forced us all to get creative and really broaden our use of technology and the many resources available to us as teachers,” said Colby FACE teacher Sarah Oehmichen. “It has been amazing to see our staff come together to share strategies, problem solve, and just support each other.”
Several teachers admit they were nervous at first, but the nerves have slowly faded away as they return to the classroom. But there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome, with each day bringing a whole new set of questions.
“As with anything, it’ll take time to adjust to routines,” said Abbotsford social studies teacher Jake Knapmiller. “The four-day-a-week and block schedule is really nice for kids and, so far, teachers have seemed to enjoy the reduction in number of classes to prep for.”
Each and every student must take the safety precautions seriously. In the back of everyone’s minds is the fear they’ll have to go back to virtual learning. Many students, like Abbotsford senior Catie Clement admitted that not every class was easy to learn online last semester.
“I am worried we will have to go back to virtual learning, especially with all the new numbers popping up,” Clement said. “The virtual learning helped me to make myself accountable, but it was hard to learn new material, especially in trigonometry class.”
This makes following the guidelines so important, but teachers and students alike are hopeful that soon schools will return to normal, even if it means there might never be another snow day.
“We want to be in the classroom teaching our students. We want things to go back to normal,” Larsen said. “But we also want to do so safely. I think if everyone continues to do their part when it comes to the pandemic, I think we can get back to normal soon.”