Carson City mother Tonya Reyes dropped off her son, Elijah, 11, Tuesday for his first day physically back on campus in the sixth grade at Eagle Valley Middle School, taking his picture and reassuring him he would be fine.
“I feel okay,” she said afterward. “It’s certainly different. He was fine but then he was scared. He got scared and nervous. ‘I don’t know if I want to go,’ he said. But I feel fine.”
Reyes thought because he’d be required to wear a mask due to the pandemic, he was experiencing some trepidation about entering middle school. She also has a daughter, Isabella, 14, starting at Carson High School this week and said she was disappointed about missing out on the typical social opportunities without the usual freshman orientation she was expecting.
“It’s the first-day jitters,” she said. “But once they get in and find a familiar face, they’ll be fine. But it’s new teachers and new schools for the both of them.”
The return to school looked different this year for Carson City parents, students and staff in the face of the pandemic on the second official day of school Tuesday. Under the district’s hybrid model, fewer students physically are occupying the buildings at any given time as the two separate cohorts are divided on different days of the week. Group one students came Tuesday with masks on, Chromebooks in hand and backpacks on while group two students remained at home completing their distance learning asynchronously.
At Eagle Valley, some parents walked their students into the office or waved their students off while others dropped them off at the curb. Other students stepped off a constant rotation of buses filled at half-capacity for safety.
The changes didn’t stop administrators and teachers from greeting their students with the same enthusiasm as any other school year, directing the kids about where to go if needed, answering questions from families and “doing school” as district personnel do it best, as Eagle Valley’s English as a Second Language teacher Linda Belnap described it.
“It’s like the first year (of teaching) when you’re not sure what things are going to look like,” Belnap said. “(It’s) just the feeling overall no one’s sure what’s going to happen. We don’t know how many kids are going to come through this door today. Even yesterday (Monday), people were changing to the online option.”
Belnap said most staff members were concerned about the students’ mental state coming into Tuesday.
“I think a lot of kids are feeling like they don’t know what to expect or know who their teachers are going to be,” she said. “We didn’t have our boot camp, we didn’t have our back-to-school night where kids can come in and see us and know what we want. Everybody’s walking into it feeling discomforted.”
But she added the staff remains excited about seeing the students back at school. Teachers have been well-trained in their professional learning that occurred last week, and while everyone’s safety and health are still top of mind, she said the staff looks forward to a successful year and is ready to teach.
“It’s real exciting today to have these kids come in here and get going,” she said.
Superintendent Richard Stokes spent his morning at Eagle Valley before traveling to other campuses to speak with other staff members and said the district overall has had a variety of changes. He said it continues to learn from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on current government restrictions on COVID-19 and monitors the latest protocols to make sure CCSD remains in alignment. He added the recent air quality due to the Loyalton fire in Sierra County, Calif. remains an ongoing concern.
District staff for now, however, will continue to sanitize and clean buildings and ask everyone to maintain social distancing, he said.
“We’re hoping that this goes a long way with keeping our students and safe,” he said.
However, with students physically returning now, a major concern is making sure there is no academic gap for students between the last semester and this year.
“We do not want the pandemic to negatively impact students from graduating from high school,” he said. “That’s really why we’re in business, and we need to be able to send our kids out into the world from their preparatory education experience with all their knowledge and skills and the tools they need to be successful, whether it’s in the workplace or whether it’s at the next stage of their education.”