The sun was shining, and there were a lot of smiles in front of Fort Belvoir Elementary School last week, as a crowd of teachers, in white lab coats, awaited the first school busses back to campus, according to Fort Belvoir Upper School Principal Jamey Chianetta.
“It’s so exciting,” said Chianetta, beaming underneath her mask. “It’s been about a year since we’ve had students in our classrooms. We’ve been waiting for this moment. Today, our general education students are jumping in; all of our kindergartners are back, and soon we’ll have our first and second graders back, and by mid-March, the rest of the campus will be back for two days a week in-person class.”
Fairfax County School District asked families to choose virtual only, or hybrid in-class instruction, and Chianetta said that about 75% of the parents chose the hybrid model, which means that students attend class two days a week, and other two days are virtual instruction at home.
She said the excitement is mingled with anxiety, as the staff wants to make sure everybody is safe, and needs to know that the strict safety protocols can be followed.
“It’s going to take some time to make sure that everyone learns those protocols and everyone demonstrates those safety practices, and a lot of our time is going to be spent in building that with the kids,” explaining that to help Kindergarteners understand social distancing, they proceed to class sharing a plastic chain, with hand grips linked on every six feet.
“With this first group, we have about 100 kids Tuesday and Wednesday, and a different set of 100 kids here each Thursday and Friday,” said Margo Pareja, principal of Fort Belvoir Primary School.
“It doesn’t look the same; students aren’t able to share materials,” Pareja said. “We do have some things under the safety protocols that make it a little different, but the kids that have been back have done a great job and have been so excited to be back. The parents, as well, are really excited to have the kids back in class. We’re not back to kids back in class every day, but this is one step toward that.”
Laura Bullard walked her son Estefan, 4, to school, and said she was glad the in-class instruction has returned.
“It’s good because it gives them a better experience than to do it online. They’re able to interact with the other kids, and they can social distance and do everything that we do when we go to work. It makes it easier for them and for us,” Bullard said.
Alexia Flynn, a physical education teacher at the primary school, said it was startling to see more than faces on a screen.
“Seeing them face to face, they look so much bigger in person, after looking at them on a little screen. It’s so exciting,” Flynn said. “In PE, we have a great system now where we keep the kids active, even in person in their little blocks they have to stand. As long as they can get some movement in, and not be sitting all day, we’re excited to help out.”
“At the end of the day, the kids were spent,” Pareja said. “I think there was an early bedtime across the installation for kids that were back in class because they were so tired and just not used to it.”