A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Northern Elementary welcomes K-2 students back to campus after nearly a year of remote learning

Almost 150 youngsters – some excited and eager, others subdued and a tad sleepy – returned to Northern Elementary’s campus early Monday after nearly a year of remote learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A half-dozen buses unloaded students at Northern Elementary, where a couple of volunteers from Bryan Station High School helped out on Day 1. (Photo from FCPS)

“They’re thrilled for the kids to come back. We’ve all been counting down the days,” Principal Meredith Ramage said of her staff and teachers. “We’ve got the PPE and everything to keep people as safe as we can, and we’ll take it one day at a time.”

Across Fayette County Public Schools, an estimated 7,000 children were the first to resume daily classroom instruction according to the FCPS COVID-19 In-Person Learning Matrix, which allows for a phased return by grade level. Since March 2020, district and school officials have prepared for this day – developing guidelines and implementing customized plans that prioritize health and safety. “It’s almost like you’re opening a brand new school. Every procedure, every process has been examined through the lens of COVID,” Ramage said. “Our staff is over the top ready!”

Cafeteria staff logged in students and handed out breakfast bags in the hallway. (Photo from FCPS)

Thus Feb. 22 began with temperature checks as students entered the building – whether a bus rider, a car rider, or a walker. “I’ll be curious to see how long it takes kids to walk through the temperature scanner. The kids are all different heights, and it’s very sensitive,” Ramage said beforehand.

Among other precautions, students’ desks feature protective shields and their school supplies include hand sanitizer, the P.E. teacher had taped off six-foot blocks in the gym to space the children during activities, and circle stickers on the hallway floors remind students to maintain social distancing. And of course, wearing a facemask has become part of everyday life. To help students recognize them, Northern’s teachers and staff also wear 4×6 photos on their lanyards.

Northern’s desks are fitted with protective shields that separate the children. (Photo from FCPS)

“It’s going to be an adjustment. It’s truly the first day of school,” said Family Resource Center coordinator Carolyn Ford, who greeted bus riders out front. “The kindergarteners will be a little nervous and we’ll feel overwhelmed, but it’ll all work out.”

The plan for the first few days called for kids to get their grab-and-go breakfasts in the hall and wait in the cafeteria for a teacher to lead them to their classroom. Northern also planned for students to pick up lunch in the cafeteria but eat at their desks, at least for a while. “Let’s start really tight, really controlled, because we can always back off,” Ramage said. “We’ll find areas and ways where we can safely expand access to different parts of the building.”

Ramage was not worried, noting that flexibility and patience are key. “Regardless of grade level, the teachers will be really mindful of re-teaching expectations and routines, almost assuming the kids really don’t know anything about how to ‘do school,’” she said. “It’s meeting the kids where they are.”

From Fayette County Public Schools

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