Wednesday was the first day of school for Moscow’s K-12 students and for many elementary-age children it also marked the beginning of their first year attending in-person classes five days a week.

While older children in middle and high school returned to a five-day schedule toward the end of the 2020-21 school year, children in kindergarten through fifth grade remained on a four-day schedule. Students attended class Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and teachers used Wednesdays for additional planning or to help with individual student needs.

Emily Spellman, who teaches second grade at McDonald Elementary school, noted that even for her students, this year represents their first chance to have a year of uninterrupted, full-time, in-person learning.

“When they were in kindergarten, they didn’t have a full year of kindergarten, they didn’t have a full year of first grade,” she said. “This is the first time that they’ve started full time unless they went to preschool — so there’s a lot of learning (about) routines and what school is like for a lot of these kids that have been out of school for so long.”

Spellman said while the air of excitement and joy that is typical of a normal first day of school was in abundance, signs that school is being conducted in an ongoing pandemic were still evident. She said drinking fountains were still closed, students worked in small groups or “pods,” and everyone wore masks while indoors.

While it’s nobody’s first choice, teachers said if local infection rates were to rise to a level that necessitated schools to move to online or hybrid instruction, faculty and families alike are much better prepared for a potential shift in instructional styles this time around.

West Park Elementary Teacher Rebecca Sager said the district started using the online learning management system Canvas last year and are now reasonably familiar with the tool.

“We will have that platform ready to go for learners that may have to utilize it from home and so our goal is just to make sure that students and parents are versed in how to navigate that,” Sager said. “We did a really good job with that last year, so I think it will be pretty seamless.”

While a shifting instructional landscape would be more manageable this year, teachers and administrators agreed that everyone is doing the best they can to follow safety guidelines so they can stay in school.

Brian Smith, principal of West Park Elementary and Paradise Creek Regional High School, said school includes an essential social aspect that children treasure. He said this was apparent in the excited greetings and generally buoyant atmosphere in the time students began to arrive by car and bus. With a year of pandemic instruction behind them and parents reinforcing the lessons learned in that year, students did remarkably well following safety protocols on their first day back, he said.

“The things we do like wearing a mask, and washing our hands and keeping a safe distance when you can — they really are well trained,” Smith said. “Everyone is in this together because we want to stay in school five days a week … there’s no concern, it’s whatever it takes — staying safe so we stay in school.”

Jackson can be reached by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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