Back to school takes different shapes for schools from Glenwood to Basalt this week
Many public schools in the lower Roaring Fork Valley are returning to classrooms this week, be it virtually, in person, or a little of both.
The K-12 schools of the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt began the school year on Monday using an online distance learning model — a precautionary measure to guard against the spread of COVID-19 after schools closed last spring when the outbreak began.
Meanwhile, two area charter schools, Two Rivers Community School in Glenwood Springs and Ross Montessori School in Carbondale, returned to a modified in-person classroom schedule on Monday.
Both schools — and others that expect to follow with in-person learning next week — are following strict public health guidelines including health checks to start each day, mask requirements, physical distancing in classrooms, frequent hand-washing, and keeping students in established groups, or cohorts.
Throughout this week, the Roaring Fork District’s online sessions are devoted to teacher, student and parent orientations to make sure students are familiar with use of their Google Chromebook computers that are used to access the various online learning platforms.
That time will also be used to determine individual and grade-level learning needs, according to the plan presented to the district school board recently.
Starting Aug. 24, real-time class sessions will begin for all grades, and will continue as the mode of learning for the first month of school. Teachers are being encouraged to conduct classes and provide student instruction from their classrooms, but are not required to do so.
District officials will be working with public health advisors in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties to determine whether a safe return to the classrooms will be possible by Sept. 21.
That’s the district’s target date for bringing students back to the classroom, if it’s deemed safe to do so with the established Centers for Disease Control guidelines in place. That decision is expected to be made by Sept. 8.
The district’s charter Carbondale Community School is slated to return to a hybrid mix of in-person and online instruction for different age groups starting Aug. 24.
Student pods approach
Two Rivers and Ross Montessori have both begun their school year with a “soft” start to get students, teachers, staff and families familiar with the new protocols of in-person schooling.
Two Rivers Head of School Jamie Nims said the first couple of days have gone smoothly, in terms of assigning students to their designated learning cohorts — or pods as they call them — of no more than 20 students per pod.
The CDC recommends student cohorts as a way to limit disease spread to smaller groups, should there be an outbreak.
“Honestly, it’s been going great,” Nims said. “We had expected to have some obstacles, but it’s really gone smoothly so far.”
The school’s 365 students are only attending for half-day sessions this week, and only 50% at a time, one-half Monday and Tuesday and the other half Wednesday and Thursday.
There will be no school Friday, as teachers and staff meet to discuss and refine plans for the scheduled full opening on Aug. 24.
“We’re also having afternoon briefings each day to decide what might need to change, and how to address that,” Nims said.
About 20% of Two Rivers students and their families have opted to begin the school year doing their learning remotely, he said.
“We have a high-flex model, where students can stay at home and can return to school when they want,” Nims said.
Should a student or group of students test positive or be exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19, as with standard protocols for all schools, they will be required to quarantine or isolate and continue their lessons from home, Nims explained.
Ideally, “that will be done without missing a beat,” he said. “We want to maintain that sense of community that’s so important for our school.”
Nims said the school is at capacity with 15 more students than it ended the 2019-20 school year with and has a waitlist of more than 30. Those requests are from families living in both the Roaring Fork District and Garfield Re-2, which resumes in-person schooling next week.
Students who need to use the bus that’s provided to get to school are being allowed to do so. But bus-riding also has strict protocols, including no more than 50% capacity on each bus and not sitting with anyone outside of immediate family or “pod-mates,” Nims said.
Likewise, Ross Montessori in Carbondale is providing student transportation, with the same distancing and public health protocols, Head of School Sonya Hemmen said.
“With students coming from as far as Rifle, Marble, Basalt, New Castle and Glenwood Springs, we need to offer this safe and complimentary service to our families,” Hemmen said.
One of the school’s students is even from Gypsum, but is staying on the west side of Glenwood Canyon during the Interstate 70 closure caused by the Grizzly Creek Fire, she said.
On Tuesday, students arriving by bus, in cars, by bike or on foot were greeted by the school’s Marmot mascot — complete with mask and standing in the back of Hemmen’s vintage Ford pickup truck (also wearing a custom mask).
“We continue to offer two full bus routes in the morning and afternoon,” Hemmen said. “Those buses are less full this year as families who live closer than two miles to school are carpooling, walking, and biking to school.”
Ross Montessori has also developed student cohorts within the multi-age classroom approach that is typical for Montessori schools. Students are staged outside in their groups to begin each day, and take turns entering the building through multiple entrances, en route to their classrooms.
“We will follow all health department guidelines and believe our re-opening plan has started off strong,” Hemmen said. “We do anticipate having to move to hybrid learning or at-home learning as the pandemic mandates, but know that this amazingly warm weather provides for outdoor learning space.”
Ross Montessori is also at capacity at 311 students to start the year. But it, too, is maintaining a longer than usual wait list of 38 enrollment applications, Hemmen said.
About 16% of the school’s families have opted to “learn-from-home,” at least for the first quarter, she said.
“We are proud to be back and feel very fortunate that our professional educational staff is prepared to educate in-person as long as we are able to do so,” Hemmen said.
In addition to the Garfield Re-2 schools in New Castle, Silt and Rifle returning to classrooms next week, District 16 schools in Parachute/Battlement Mesa plan to return with in-person instruction on Sept. 1.
Elsewhere, Glenwood Springs’ two parochial schools, St. Stephens Catholic School and Ambleside Skylark, also return to the classroom next week, as do the private Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork, Cornerstone Christian Academy in Basalt and Liberty Classical Academy in New Castle.
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