Roark Fork Schools’ K-3 students, teachers return to the classroom
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
The smiling faces might have been hidden by masks and the hugs delivered virtually, but they were nonetheless a big part of the day Monday as Roaring Fork Schools welcomed K-3 students to live and in-person classrooms for the first time this school year.
“We had a wonderful ‘first’ day of school,” said Carrie Hassel, assistant principal at Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood Springs.
Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt have been conducted online since the official start of the school year in late August due to coronavirus concerns.
“The kids did a great job following the new routines and expectations, the staff was thrilled to see the kids and the kids were thrilled to see the staff,” Hassel said.
School days are now partly spent making sure students keep their protective masks on, stay in their designated student-teacher groups (known as cohorts), wash their hands regularly, and maintain a safe social distance to guard against the spread of COVID-19
“Our leadership team met after school to discuss procedures that need refinement, and we are ready to go again tomorrow,” Hassel said.
The same was true at Glenwood Springs Elementary, Riverview, Crystal River and Basalt Elementary schools.
“While our procedures and schedules looked differently than normal, the same warmth and happiness exists in our school,” Riverview Principal Adam Volek said. “It was very evident to me that our teachers had already established amazing relationships with our kids during distance learning, allowing for the transition to in-person to be pretty seamless.”
Glenwood Elementary School Principal Audrey Hazleton said she enjoyed watching as students were able to finally meet their teachers for real, instead of just seeing their face on the computer screen.
“Our teachers were really well-prepared and thought through so many of the details to make this happen,” Hazleton said. “And our parents did what they needed to do at home to get the kids ready.”
The district began its transition of students back to in-person classes on Monday, starting with K-3. Unless conditions change and local public health and medical professionals advise otherwise, the district will proceed with the return of grades 5-8 next Monday, and high school students on Nov. 2.
“It’s nice having the gradual start, so we’re better able to build the routines and practices with the kids,” Hazleton said.
Schools do have opportunities for students to take a break from the mask-wearing, while they’re outside (so long as they stay distanced), and even giving short breaks for individual students to step out into the hallway and pull their mask down briefly.
Not all families opted to send their students back to school buildings. Out of 1,146 K-3 students in the district, about 15% (127) opted to remain on the district’s distance learning plan.
“The number continues to fluctuate,” Roaring Fork Schools Public Information Officer Kelsy Been said.
Teachers in the elementary and middle schools who applied for and received special accommodation to teach online only due to a personal or family health concern have also been assigned accordingly, she said.
The lingering nice weather is making it possible to utilize outdoor classroom spaces, which aids in keeping students from interacting too closely.
“With this new facility, we have designated spots all around the school for every grade level, and are really encouraging the use of those outdoor classrooms,” Hazleton said, adding that would not have been nearly as possible with the old school building before the 2015-16 remodel and new addition.
Added Volek, “We are finding many moments throughout the day to offer outdoor learning opportunities. Our families have been supportive, encouraging, positive and understanding during this transition, and we feel grateful to have such a wonderful school community.”
Watching and learning
The Roaring Fork Schools have had the benefit of observing as other schools in the area returned immediately to the option of in-person classes to begin the school year, including the neighboring Garfield Re-2 and District 16 schools.
The closest comparison within the Roaring Fork District to the elementary schools in terms of student population are the area charter schools and St. Stephen Catholic School.
Two Rivers Community School, a K-8 state charter school operating in Glenwood Springs, opened with about 365 students. About 25% of its students began the year on full-time remote learning, but that percentage has dwindled to about 5% in recent weeks, TRCS Head of School Jamie Nims said.
“Because of the county’s strict rules about when a student should stay home for possible symptoms, we’ve created a system that allows students to temporarily shift to remote learning as needed and come back to the building once they meet the criteria to return to in-person instruction,” Nims said.
Teachers at Two Rivers are doing both remote and in-person instruction, using a live-stream platform with the students who are learning from home, he said.
While some students and staff have had to isolate while awaiting COVID test result, Two Rivers, as of last week, had not had any quarantine situations.
Whenever that does happen, for any school now offering in-person classes, any student or staff member who may have come in contact with someone who tests positive must quarantine for 14 days and keep up with school work online.
“We have started to send individual cohorts on outdoor field trips to locations that we feel can support social distancing,” Nims also said.
Ross Montessori School in Carbondale has had a similar experience, Head of School Sonya Hemmen said.
Of 312 students K-8 at Ross, just 26 are learning from home online, but with support from the school’s teachers and support team, she said.
“We have one full-time teacher at home and one half-time teacher providing support in the afternoons after she finishes teaching face-to-face in the morning,” Hemmen said.
Ross has been asked to track several possible cases of exposure involving both students and staff, but so far has not had to quarantine anyone, Hemmen said.
St. Stephen School in Glenwood has 165 students K-8 this fall; five of whom are attending the Archdioce of Denver online school, called St. Isidore.
As with every other school, COVID-19 precautions are in place, St. Stephen Head of School Glenda Oliver said.
“Our teachers are teaching the students who are in-person, while remaining in close contact with the St. Isidore online teachers who are teaching (St. Stephen) students,” she said.
St. Isidore has its own principal, faculty, and tutors, Oliver said.
“However, our online students are still part of our St. Stephen community,” she said. “They virtually attend our daily morning announcements, and receive newsletters, plus school communications.”
Virtual homework and tutoring sessions are also made available to the online students by St. Stephen.
“Thus far, we have only had a few families quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19 or because they were traveling,” Oliver added. “Our parents have done an amazing job of keeping their kids home when they are sick; thus, keeping our community healthy and allowing us to keep our school doors open to in-person learning.”
As with the public schools, Oliver said St. Stephen remains in close contact with Garfield Public Health to review things and adjust protocols and procedures as needed.