Island elementary school students who require additional support in their learning returned to in-person instruction Thursday, as all Island students returned to some form of education — either remote or in-person. Pre-K students (Project Headway) have also returned to in-person learning across the Island.
Students in this cohort have been designated as high-needs students, based on guidance from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), and officials have worked to advocate for their rapid return to school campuses.
This group of students includes those with IEPs, 504 plans, or disabilities, along with English language learner (ELL) students, and others with circumstances that require them to be taught in person.
After hours of deliberation in school meetings and receiving extensive input from stakeholders, officials finalized the school reopening plan at the end of August, which includes measures like utilizing outdoor learning spaces as much as possible, and requiring that students wear masks throughout the school day.
On Thursday, students with high needs returned to elementary schools across the Island. At the Tisbury School, a bus of just two students pulled up to the parking lot near the playground and unloaded. The students hopped off the bus — their faces covered — and were greeted by their teachers and faculty. They then proceeded to the rear of the campus, where a large tent was set up for outdoor learning.
A number of students were also dropped off by their families.
In the large tent on the athletic field, students wore masks and played games to get them warmed up to the new year, as well as get them accustomed to the multitude of changes in their everyday lives due to health restrictions.
Teacher Shannon Carbon said a cheerful good morning to her students, both in English, and in Portuguese.
Carbon asked students if they knew of anything that people should avoid doing with their masks, and one student said not to touch your mask with your hands.
“That’s right!” Carbon said. “If you do touch the front of your mask with your hands, you can put on some hand sanitizer.”
The entire morning meeting for the first day at the Tisbury School was conducted in English and Portuguese.
Carbon then led the students in an introductory name game, where kids kicked a soccer ball around and said each other’s names. “Just kick the ball. No picking it up with your hands,” Carbon said.
After the students and teachers finished the name game, nurses Catherine Coogan and Mary Vivian gave a presentation on proper mask, sanitation, and distancing protocols.
“We can go over these things multiple times with your teachers later on. They are all things to keep you safe so you can continue to go to school with your friends,” Coogan said.
Coogan explained to students how their parents will screen them using a COVID checklist every morning, and discussed the new situation in the nurse’s office, which includes a separate space for those who feel ill, and another space for other health issues.
“All of this will become part of your daily routine, just like wearing masks,” Coogan said. “If you have any questions at all, please come to the nurse’s office, and we will help you.”
Principal John Custer said he feels relieved to see students learning at the campus again, but Assistant Principal Melissa Ogden said she has mixed feelings.
“It is tough because, yes, we do have kids back here, but not all of them,” Ogden said. “I am excited for the time when we phase the rest of them back into the building.”
In two-week increments, older students will slowly be reintroduced to in-person learning, with high school students being the last to return to campus.