A much-anticipated first day of school on Sept. 17

Sep 10, 2020 by

Published September 10, 2020

WELCOME BACK, and thanks! On September 1, the E. Ethel Little School teachers and staff were welcomed back to their school with positive messages of support, encouragement and love from their school community. A group of PTO members and students spent the afternoon of Monday, August 31, writing and drawing chalk messages along both walkways to the school. It was their way of showing them how grateful they are to them during this challenging return to work. (Amy Darling Photo) 

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — It’s no exaggeration to state that the start of a new school year has never been more scrutinized in modern times than this year has been.

After a summer of non-stop meetings and planning sessions, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patrick Daly is looking forward to greeting all of the students next week and beyond.

“I am very excited! I cannot wait to see those first buses pull up!” he told the Transcript on Tuesday.

Students and their teachers, administrators, coaches, band directors and anyone else involved in educating children have never been through such a prolonged separation from one another, across the board in every community in this country, brought on by the onset of a global pandemic.

But after six months of dealing with the realities and tragedies of COVID-19, a plan has been created to enable students to return to the classroom in this town with a hybrid model that will allow most students to experience about half of their school days in the classroom and the other half with remote learning.

That first magical day will be next Thursday, September 17 for all students from pre-K through grade 12. All pre-K and kindergarten students will attend their classes in school five days per week. Students in grades 1-12 who are assigned to Cohort C will also attend all their sessions in-person while students in Cohort D have opted to attend all their sessions remotely.

On the first two days of school, students in grades 1-12 assigned to Cohorts B and C will attend school in-person while Cohorts A and D will attend school remotely. The following week, from Monday, September 21 through Wednesday, September 23, Cohorts A and C will attend in-person while Cohorts B and D will be remote.

Cohorts A and B will alternate their Wednesday sessions roughly every other week, with accommodations made for certain holidays and other planned conference days and the like.

Another major change this year will be half-day Wednesdays every week for all elementary school students through grade 5. They will not be attending school remotely on those Wednesday afternoons because these weekly sessions will be reserved for elementary teachers to collaborate with one another. Middle School and High School students will have full days on Wednesdays, whether attending classe in-person or remotely.

The biggest change, however, may be the change in start times, with all three elementary schools starting their school day earlier than both the high school and the middle school. Charts listing the exact start and end times for all students are printed in today’s Transcript.

To enable this hybrid plan to work, it also includes getting a Chromebook into the hands of each student at all grade levels issued by the North Reading Public Schools. And it involves adhering to social distancing — whether in the classroom, at lunch, on the playground and playing fields, or on a school bus — students will be learning to interact with their teachers and peers while wearing masks, and adjusting to spending most of their school day with smaller groups of students in their assigned cohorts.

It also means new methods of teaching and learning. The district’s teachers are currently on day six of their 10 days of state-approved professional development days. They have spent this time with their colleagues learning how to adapt their lessons, assisted by technology, in a way that will engage their students both in the classroom and during their remote learning days.

According to the superintendent, these teaching methods will enable educators to switch to full remote instruction, if it is ever necessary due to to COVID-19 or other reasons, such as snow days (at least those that don’t involve widespread power outages).

The year ahead is one that will be filled with change, and that’s exciting and will provide many opportunities for growth. But so many changes all at once can also be unnerving and overwhelming. This week’s Transcript is devoted to providing our readers with the Back to School information that parents and students should find most helpful during this transitional period, along with tips from health experts such as the CDC on how to manage living in COVID-19 era.Have a wonderful school year!

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