HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Monday marks a big day for Hartford Public Schools. Thousands of students, who have been learning remotely, returned to the classroom.
City leaders say bringing kids back into the classrooms in the capital city has been a collaborative effort between the city’s health department and the school district.
Starting Monday, March 29, 2,600 students are returning to in-person learning for the first time in over a year. A total of 10,300 of the 17,300 students within Hartford Public Schools will now be learning in-person full time.
“We’re ready,” said Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, Friday. “We’re ready for our students and we can’t wait to have them back.”
We spoke with Dr. Torres-Rodriguez Monday as students filed into the classroom. She said, for some students, this was their first time inside the school building ever: “Some of our sixth graders, this is their first time that they step into their middle school. The same thing for ninth graders; it is the first time that they get to see their school, meet their friends.”
At Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy, about 180 students returned to in-person learning to find a few changes awaiting them.
One thing students will notice are the green directional arrows on the ground designed to maintain social distancing and airflow safety.
Julie Goldstein of Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy said, “Each of the grade levels has a designated restroom facility. And our desks are spaced physically so that they are intentionally as close to three or six feet apart.”
The school district credits stepped up COVID vaccinations by teachers and staff with encouraging parents to send their kids back to school.
Dr. Torres-Rodriguez said they firmly believe in the benefits of in-person learning.
With chronic absenteeism and lower engagement rates doubling throughout the pandemic, the superintendent says this is one remedy. Bringing kids back into the classroom for not only academic reasons but social and emotional learning component of school that leaders say can be challenging to recreate through an online platform.
“We know many of our students are not meeting success with remote learning as evidenced by our high, chronic absentee rates and our lower engagement rates,” she explained.
District officials say they want parents and families to know this opening was done with them in mind with a goal of keeping everyone safe and getting kids back on track.
Dr. Torres-Rodriguez: “There are health implications and so we have collaborated with local and state health officials following CDC guidance.”
It also aligns with state guidance. All existing health and safety measures — which include wearing masks, washing and sanitizing hands often, and maintaining social distancing — will continue to be enforced.
“We continue to create an environment that is safe for students and our staff,” said Dr. Torres-Rodriguez.
Anthony Davila, principal of Dwight Bellizzi Dual Language Academy in Hartford, said he’s excited to welcome about 150 remote learners back.
“I think the biggest challenge is going to be to stop them from hugging me!” said Davila.
But while safety is a major priority throughout the district, some parents are still opting to continue remote learning for their children.
Goldstein explains, “Some families have medically fragile people at home, some families have other reasons why they need to keep their children home.”
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin applauded teachers and school employees for their work and efforts, navigating an ever-changing year.
“I want to say thank you to every educator and every member of the Hartford Public Schools team who was part of this transition back,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin.
He added, “It’s been a year since our classrooms shut down, that means for many students they have not been physically in the classroom all year long and at this point, as we work to help our kids recover from this year, every month matters, every week matters and everyday matters.”
Dr. Torres-Rodriguez also adds that parents should not just send their child to school if they have not contacted the school confirming their in-person attendance. Be sure to give your school a call so teachers and staff can prepare accordingly.
If families have any questions, they’re being encouraged to call their child’s school directly.