Monday was the first day back in the classroom in nearly a year for pre-kindergarten through third grade students in Halifax County Public Schools.
It also was the 100th day of school for the 2020-2021 academic year.
“It’s doubly exciting because it’s the 100th day of school and the first day for face-to-face learning to occur this school year,” said Francine Davis, principal at Sinai Elementary School. “I’m enjoying it. Things are going smoothly…I was really excited when I found out the kids were coming back.”
The first day of face-to-face learning for the HCPS students originally was set for Feb. 16, but two separate ice storms last week that caused widespread power outages throughout Halifax County led to the cancellation of face-to-face classes as well as virtual lessons.
Monday was far from a typical 100th day of school or a first day back to school. Everything was different for students coming to school for the first time since schools throughout Virginia shut down in March 2020 because of COVID-19.
A team of staff members stood on the sidewalk in front of Sinai Elementary School Monday morning eagerly awaiting the students’ arrival.
Instead of arriving on buses filled with other students and bounding straight into the school building as they did in the past, the students wore face masks and sat spaced apart on buses with few other students.
As the students arrived, some by bus and some by car, the school staff took the students’ temperatures and directed them to stand on large white dots spaced six feet apart on the sidewalk, practicing social distancing, before making their way into the school building.
“This is our new normal,” said Amy Lipscomb, a kindergarten teacher at Sinai Elementary School.
With practice, Lipscomb said she is sure everyone will become accustomed to the new protocols such as constantly wiping down surfaces and frequent hand sanitizing.
Lipscomb and fellow kindergarten teacher Ariel Goode also had a first-time teaching experience Monday.
They had their Chromebooks mirrored to a Promethean board in their classroom so they could teach their students virtually and face-to-face at the same time.
Under the new A/B hybrid model that HCPS started this week, A Day students attend class face-to-face on Mondays and Wednesdays, and attend virtual classes from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
B Day students attend class face-to-face on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and attend virtual classes from home on Mondays and Wednesdays.
“After our virtual and face-to-face session was over, we worked with the kids in the classroom on skills that need strengthening,” Lipscomb shared. “We used shaving cream as a remediation for the students to review their letters, and they had a marvelous time with that.”
Goode added, “It was something different than regular pencil and paper. It was fun and messy.”
Goode and Lipscomb also wore “100th day of school” T-shirts and led their students in activities related to that celebration, as well.
“We counted to 100 by 1’s, 5’s and 10’s,” said Goode. “For the social and emotional part of the lesson, we asked the students, ‘If you had $100, what would you buy?’ Then we gave them a (pretend) $100 bill to color.”
Another kindergarten teacher at Sinai, Crissy Stolzenthaler, led her students in a fun 100th day of school activity, decorating a poster board with stencils of 100 stars.
In another part of the county, at Meadville Elementary School, the first day back to school was off to a smooth start, as well, thanks to “a lot of preparation” ahead of the day, according to school principal Kevin Neal.
“The students who were here seemed happy to be here, and the teachers are excited, as well,” Neal commented. “It’s hard to believe it’s been so long since the students were in the building. We’re glad to have them back.”
Staff members were in place outside the school building to check the temperatures of all the students before they headed into the doors of Meadville Elementary School, and at the entrance of the building to guide the students in the right direction.
“Everybody got to class on time,” Neal said.
An exuberant Jo Powell, school secretary at Clays Mill Elementary School, expressed the joy she felt at seeing the students come back into the school building for the first time this year.
“Our babies are back. We’re so glad to have them back,” Powell said. “Things are going great. They’re just running smooth.”
Kacey Whitt, principal at Cluster Springs Elementary School, also said the first day of school was off to a “really smooth start,” and she had seen “lots of smiling faces.”
“Our whole staff has worked really hard going into today, and our hard work has paid off,” Whitt said. “We’ve got happy kids and happy teachers.”
In addition to pre-kindergarten through third grade students, special education students and English Language Learners have the option to return to the classroom this week for in-person instruction as well. Along with the hybrid learning option combining face-to-face and virtual instruction, the HCPS students continue to have the distanced-only option of school attendance.