COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Bubbles, cheering and elbow bumps abounded at Woodcrest Elementary Thursday morning. The year-round school is the first in the Columbus City Schools District to welcome students back for the 2021-2022 school year.
“This is a day we’ve been waiting on for so long – to have all of our students back and all of our staff. It’s really exciting,” said Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon.
For the first time since March of 2020, students will be learning in-person five days a week. It’s a welcome change for many children and parents who spent the last school year juggling a hybrid learning model.
“It was like we didn’t really get to be in-person to see our friends anymore [last year],” said Yaronn Hunt, a 5th grader at Woodcrest.
His twin brother Javonn Hunt added, “I want to see all of my friends and all the teachers. It’s going to be my last year, so I want to make it a good year.”
Brea McAfee, the mother of a 2nd grade student, explained the challenges of balancing her own work and school schedule with her daughter’s remote learning. She expects her to thrive back in-person.
“I’m really ecstatic because I don’t think she really retained as much as she possibly could last year so I’m hoping she gets all the information she needs this year,” McAfee said.
Concerns about learning loss prompted the school district to offer expanded summer programming, called the Summer Experience, after the term ended in May.
“This summer we wanted to focus on engaging our students in learning again, having fun and being with their teachers and with their peers,” Dr. Dixon explained.
She said on the first day back, teachers will evaluate each student to determine if they need additional academic help. Additional resources also will come from outside partners to help the children fill in social-emotional gaps.
“As we do our assessments of our students and the teachers go back and look at the data, we have the tools to make sure we catch our students up,” Dr. Dixon said.
The return to school comes as case numbers are once again rising in Ohio and around the country. CCS is consulting Columbus Public Health and, with the agency’s guidance, will be requiring masks for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status.
“We know that many of our family members and some of our students haven’t had the opportunity to take the vaccine, so it’s to protect all of us. And with their guidance, we said this was the right choice — to continue to wear masks,” Dr. Dixon said, adding feedback from families about the mask requirement has been largely positive.
Inside the building, students will notice minor changes from the previous school year. Evolving health guidance permitted schools to remove partitions between desks and narrow social distancing from six feet to three feet.
Drinking fountains will remain closed this fall. The district is also promoting good hand hygiene and asking families to monitor their students for any signs of COVID-19 symptoms.
CCS still hopes to hire more bus drivers and substitute teachers this summer and fall to accommodate a growing need. Dixon explained policies may change with recommendations from health experts as they monitor growing variant strains of the virus.
“We will continue to follow the guidance of Columbus Public Health officials and allow them to help us make those tough decisions,” she said.
Kindergarten and pre-K students will start on a staggered schedule at Woodcrest Elementary over the next 2 weeks. The rest of the district will return on August 26th.