NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Many high school students in New Haven returned to in-person learning Monday after over a year learning from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
District leaders called the reopening a long-awaited effort.
The decision to bring high school students back to in-person learning has not been without its challenges, but district leaders say they have put in a lot of work and preparation to ensure students can be welcomed back safely.
Dr. Iline Tracey, superintendent of New Haven Public Schools told News 8, “All of the measures that we need to put in place on our side to the best of our ability we have put in place to ensure the buildings are safe and that there are proper protocols in place.”
Sanitizing, social distancing, and mask-wearing are set to be the new norm for New Haven public high schools.
At Riverside Academy Monday morning, Principal Derek Stephenson told News 8, “Some of the safety precautions are the six feet, social distancing, definitely wearing their mask. We know it’s a challenge, but we definitely have to do this to maintain our safety.”
At James Hillhouse High School, students found some changes Monday, particularly during the lunch hour.
“The cafeteria is limited to like a hundred students and so we decide to use the courtyard in the event we have too many students in the lunch wave,” said Glen Worthy, James Hillhouse High School principal.
The students are also directed through the day by the use of arrows and signs posted throughout the building.
School officials say they are anxious to see what effect if any COVID has had on students’ learning.
“Unfortunately, we’re on vacation next week, so, we’re gonna do some reading assessments to find out where our kids really are and just start making a plan from there forward,” Worthy added.
Students began an in-person hybrid learning model Monday with a group going to class on Mondays and Tuesdays, and another attending on Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesdays being a remote learning day.
The decision to allow students the option of returning to in-person learning came just days after the state allowed teachers and school professionals to receive their COVID-19 vaccines. And now, with the April 5 reopening on the horizon, health officials with the city have also begun conversations about student vaccines.
With the state now allowing folks 16 and over to sign up for the vaccine, there are lots of moving parts to this reopening, lots of building inspections, and social distancing preparations in place.
City leaders say students need to be back in the classroom and the time is now.
Mayor Justin Elicker told News 8 Sunday, “Our high schoolers have been out since the beginning of the pandemic and I know from talking with a lot of them that they’re really excited to go back. But it’s also helpful to go back because in-person learning by far is more effective.”
“I am very excited to see my students coming back in for the high schools so that completes our phases of bringing our students back,” said Asst. Superintendent Keisha Redd-Hannans Sunday.
District officials say they hope to get right to work getting kids back on track.
Redd-Hannans: “In all of our schools, here in New Haven as well as across the nation, students are not performing at the levels in which they were performing at this time last year at the same grade levels and that is to be expected…We recognize that we’re in a pandemic but we know it’s truly important that we wrap our arms around our students and our families to get them reengaged in the learning process.”
Some students, however, were not convinced.
Cameron Kemp, a freshman, told us Sunday, “I don’t know how I feel about going back to school knowing that the corona has still been going on…I’m not trying to put my family at risk.”
Despite the hesitation, district leaders have a message for families and students ahead of the hybrid welcoming: “I understand that they may feel somewhat apprehensive to send their students in and that is their right if they feel that way, they still have the option of keeping their students home.”
Parents we spoke to Monday like Rafiq Jn applauded the district and what it’s done to keep the students on track while remote learning: “They have done a very good job. They have provided computers, chargers, everything on time. We have internet, we don’t have a problem with the internet. But the thing is, in person is better than online.”