FIRST LOOK: Previewing how teachers are preparing to bring students back in-person

GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Some kindergarten through 5th-grade students in Grants Pass are heading back to partial in-person learning next week, as schools around the region reopen for on-campus learning.

Riverside Elementary is splitting the student body in half, using a hybrid model to maintain social distancing rules.

Madeline Harden is a first-year kindergarten teacher at Riverside. She’s juggled both online and in-person instruction due to pandemic closures.

“I’ve known I was going to go into education my whole life. It’s been a wild year, but I’m still really grateful I get to be in here. I get to have kids in the classroom, even if it is a really small group. And even if it is for two days a week,” said Ms. Harden.

In Grants Pass School District 7 kindergarten through 3rd graders last saw a classroom in November; for 4th and 5th graders it’s been nearly a year.

“I can’t even begin to express. I remember in November when we were told we were going to go into CDL, I put all their pencil boxes away. I pulled out all their books and labeled them and put them into bags to send home. And it was an indescribable feeling,” Ms. Harden.

Distance learning hasn’t just affected students, but teachers and even the principals.

“The personal connection was the absolute hardest. We are meant to be social people- beings and that personal connection just losing that overtime was really really hard,” said Principal Robbie Henderson.

As more students return to classrooms next week, they’ll have strict health and safety guidelines to follow. For example, students must wash their hands frequently throughout the school day.  Students are also eating in the classroom, rather than a lunch hall. Classrooms will range from 8 to 14 kids per day, wearing a mask and maintaining distance guidelines.

“What we get to do there though is kids because it is half they get some really strategic intent instruction because it’s smaller groups, it’s half the group of kids. So we can really detail our instruction for those kids who are there,” said Principal Henderson.

Third-grade teacher Mr. Schelyer Dickerson prepared his classroom for the guests of honor – the kids. He showed NBC5 News his door art creation, which looked like a hot air balloon.

“We’re trying to make it look amazing. We’re decorating our doors, my plan is to take photos of my kids and cut it out and put them in there. But I have to wait for them to get here,” said Mr. Dickerson.

In the afternoon, an announcement came over the speaker saying “Have a great weekend and the school looks great”.

However, for Ms. Harden, it’s been a long time coming. She’s finally able to put her pencil boxes back out on her students’ desks.

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