CEDAR RAPIDS — Stacy Yanda is welcoming 10 first-grade students Monday to Madison Elementary School for the first day of school in the Cedar Rapids Community School District.
For the first time in about six months, students will walk the hallways — this time wearing masks and social distancing as a part of coronavirus precautions. On the floor of the hallway are decals that tell students which direction to walk to avoid close contact with others.
The district’s first day of school was delayed about a month from the original Aug. 24 after the Aug, 10 derecho damaged every school building in the Cedar Rapids system.
The district received forgiveness of required instructional days from the Iowa Department of Education, and will maintain the last day of school this academic year as June 1, 2021.
Yanda has ordered books to read to her students to help facilitate conversations about the coronavirus pandemic. “Some families feel like it’s a hoax,” she said.
While masks are required for students in school buildings, Yanda plans to let her students take mask breaks at their desks if they need it. But she also plans to model good behavior herself by wearing a mask and a face shield in the classroom. She wants to make sure students feel safe and comfortable, she said, as some parents may not be mask wearers.
“I want them to not be freaked out,” she said. “Kids are very adaptive and will learn a new normal. Their kindergarten year was cut short, so they haven’t had too much school yet to have formed a habit.”
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Sara Wright, another first-grade teacher at Madison Elementary, is teaching almost 40 students online from an empty classroom. Her students are spread out across three different elementary schools.
While Wright wanted to teach in-person, teachers with more seniority chose to teach in-person and she was asked to teach online.
She will teach half of the first-grade class synchronously in the morning and the other half synchronously in the afternoon for about three-hour blocks of time.
“I have no words,” Wright said. “I’m terrified but excited. I cannot wait to meet the kids and get to know them.”
Wright has been studying pictures of her students to try to put faces to names. She’s worried it will be difficult for them to learn how to use their Chromebooks and log on to an online class.
“They’re little kids who have maybe never used a Chromebook before,” she said.
Over 50 percent of Cedar Rapids students are enrolled in in-person learning, 26 percent are enrolled in temporary remote learning and almost 8 percent, or 1,000 students, chose the Cedar Rapids Virtual Academy.
High school students will start the year online only. The high school buildings — Kennedy, Jefferson and Washington, as well as Taft Middle School — are under construction to repair damage caused by the derecho. The buildings are expected to be open for students by Jan. 4.
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All 21 elementary schools, as well as Roosevelt, Wilson and Harding middle schools, Polk Alternative Education Center, Metro High School and the Educational Leadership and Support Center, are repaired at 75 percent capacity and will be occupied.
Franklin and McKinley middle schools likely will be ready for students by Nov. 16.
Classroom cohorts will be about 20 students for in-person learning.
Temporary virtual classrooms are larger, with about 30 to 40 students per class, but teachers are dividing instructional time between morning and afternoon students.
Students enrolled in schools where in-person instruction is not available can attend a hub where internet and academic help will be available. The hubs are intended for students at Kennedy, Jefferson, Washington, McKinley, Franklin and Taft, and are open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.
They will be supervised by general education paraprofessionals.
The hubs are the Jane Boyd Center, Paul Engle Center, Affordable Housing Network, Four Oaks, First Lutheran Church, the Cedar Rapids Public Library and the Salvation Army Community Center. See the district’s website at cr.k12.ia.us for more details.
Schools will be sanitized as much as possible throughout the school day and disinfected in the evenings.
Custodial and grounds manager Matt Dunbar said the additional sanitizing procedures are costing about $80,000.
“Anxiety is high, people are concerned, and we’re doing everything we possibly can to make it a safe environment for staff and students,” Dunbar said.
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