Photo: Kirk Sides / Staff Photographer
While most Clear Creek ISD students will begin classes online Aug. 24, the district’s tiniest learners — prekindergarten students — will take a different approach. Instead, they’ll report to campus for in-person instruction beginning Aug. 31.
“The plan is for pre-K not to be offered online (with the rest of the district on Aug. 24),” said Elaina Polsen, the district’s chief communications officer. “That will be brick-and-mortar learning, because we know that the best environment for (that age group) is in person.”
Like other districts in the area, Clear Creek will welcome students back to in-person learning via a phased-in approach, starting the school year with one week of online learning for all students on Aug. 24, followed by an easing in of some on-campus students beginning Aug. 31, specifically prekindergartners, kindergartners, special-education students, sixth-graders and ninth-graders.
Polsen said this schedule was chosen not only to give students in those grade levels time to adjust to new safety protocols put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus but also to get used to and familiarize themselves with their new campuses.
All other students choosing in-person instruction will report to class Sept. 8. The remaining students will continue remotely.
“It helps us go through that transition time with a smaller group of students,” she said.
To be in the district’s prekindergarten program, students must be age 4 by Sept. 1 and live in district boundaries. To qualify for free pre-K, children must meet one criterion out of a list that includes requirements such as having limited English proficiency, being economically disadvantaged or having a parent in the military.
For more information about Clear Creek’s reopening plan, go to ccisd.net.
Rosemary Lagrone, a district kindergarten teacher who was part of the district’s safe reopening committee, said pre-K classes will not look the same as they have in the past and that parents, teachers and students will need to be flexible and patient.
She said pre-K students — some of which will attend full day classes while others attend half a day depending on their campus’ offerings — will eat meals in their classrooms, won’t share supplies and will be required to wear masks as much as possible when they are indoors and unable to be socially distant from each other.
“None of that is normal in early childhood classrooms, but we have to rethink lots of things this year, including how to minimize community touch and how to minimize travel within the classroom,” said Lagrone, who teaches at North Pointe Elementary and has been an educator for nearly a decade. “I’m hard-pressed to think of any procedure that’s not going to change this year.”
As for mask wearing, young children won’t be required to wear them while playing outdoors or while eating, but Lagrone said district leaders are discussing additional times they might be able to remove their face coverings, perhaps for a few minutes in the classroom if sufficient distance can be maintained. However, she said that while the kids are indoors, “I don’t think we’ll be leaving them off for a long time.”
High school robotics club making face shields
Polsen said the district is working to equip its elementary campuses with face shields for students and teachers, which Lagrone said is important for pre-K and kindergarten kids who need to see a teacher’s expressions and mouth movements while teaching phonics or for deaf children who often read lips in order to communicate.
Polsen said Clear Creek ISD has received several shipments of personal protective equipment from the Texas Education Agency and is also working with one of its own high school robotics clubs to fill an order of approximately 2,500 face shields for teachers and their young students.
Lagrone said teachers have received much support from district administrators as they prepare for a school year filled with uncertainty and, in some cases, fear.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but I do feel like our district has been working very hard to try everything they can to get us ready,’ she said. “We’ve had tech training, and they’ve even offered us training on trauma and what a trauma-sensitive school should look like. I feel like they’re going above and beyond, and I feel supported.”
She said parents have come through, as well. Her school’s parent teacher association purchased lanyards for children to hook to their masks to keep them on their bodies when they take them off to play or eat.
Tips for dressing young kids for school
And for those parents who are wondering how they can best prepare their little ones for school, Lagrone had a few tips. She said they should try to avoid dressing their kids in anything the youngsters can’t put on themselves, namely clothing with zippers or buttons or shoes with ties.
“We all want to go back and have that school experience, but if they send them in something they can’t (put on themselves), that creates more touch contact with teachers,” she said. “So, if your kid can’t do the belt, then don’t put them in the belt.”
Lagrone also advised sending paper plates or paper towels for kids to place their food on rather than on their desks, which may have germs. Additionally, she suggested parents send their kids with an extra face mask, food containers they can open themselves and one or two water bottles with button-controlled pop-up straws.
“These simple things can make a world of difference,” she said.
As for her fellow teachers, Lagrone said they are unsure what to expect, but she’s been heartened by all the creative ideas many have to tackle potential challenges. They are sharing those ideas with their colleagues and collaborating when a new challenge arises.
Now, as they get ready to go back to the classroom, she said it’s important for everyone to be flexible, be ready to quickly transition to online if need be and be armed with a good attitude.
“These are unprecedented times. So, we can fight it, complain about it or we can make the best of it, move forward and give the kids the best that we can to make it a fun, happy experience,” Lagrone said. “Will it be weird? Yes. But we’ve got to keep it positive, because if we bring that stress into the classroom, it will be a disaster.”