The City School District of New Rochelle took a major step toward a return to normal this week when elementary schools combined the two groups of students who had been taking turns attending class in person.
The joining of cohorts A and B, starting Thursday, created fuller, livelier classes and will allow elementary school students to attend school in person four days a week rather than only two. Wednesday remains a day for at-home, asynchronous learning.
“We will always put safety first; at the same time, we are exploring ways to increase in-person learning in all grades,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero. “There is no substitute for the personal interaction among students, teachers and classmates.”
Jefferson Elementary School teacher Sandra Texidor-DeSillas saw the excitement in her second-graders when a greater number of them filed into her class on Thursday.
“They were so happy to see each other,” she said. “They’re enthusiastic; they’re more focused. They’re bouncing their energy off each other.”
Ciara Ibarra, a fourth-grader at William B. Ward Elementary School, said it was “really nice” to see more of her friends when she arrived at school that day. “Now it’s going to be more fun because there are more people,” she said.
It will be a while before the District reaches its “new normal.” COVID-19 still afflicts the area as it does the nation and world. But guidance from Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is evolving, as is that of state and local health departments.
Dr. Marrero and the administrative team have been monitoring the situation, looking for ways to return to more in-person learning. Dr. Marrero is committed to making the changes in collaboration with the community. This week, he led the first two of a series of four Town Hall meetings to allow parents, guardians and community members to air their views and ask their questions about the changes.
The two held this week, on Thursday and Friday, addressed the shift in the elementary schools. During the Thursday session, Dr. Marrero said the initial success of the combined cohorts “was seen in the smiles of the students.” The majority of the hour-long sessions were dedicated to answering questions from community members, with Dr. Marrero accompanied by his administrative team to respond. Inquiries included:
Will school return to a traditional schedule in September? Dr. Marrero and Dr. Louis Corsaro, the District’s interim medical director, both hoped it would. Dr. Corsaro said factors to be considered include the COVID infection rate, community vaccination rate and guidance from the CDC and Westchester County Department of Health. “September may be a different profile than we see right now,” Dr. Corsaro said.
How is the District addressing the impact of some students being uncomfortable due to classroom windows being open to aid ventilation? Dr. Marrero agreed that open windows cause a less-than-ideal learning environment. He said the District wanted to offer in-person learning for families desiring that option. He also said concerned parents can also opt for virtual learning, and noted that space heaters will be provided as needed.
Can you give parents an opportunity to see how classes are operating in school buildings, with COVID safeguards in place? Dr. Marrero praised the suggestion and said he would look into providing virtual tours.
When the District returns from the next week’s mid-winter break, Dr. Marrero will host two more Town Halls – discussing the middle schools on February 23 and New Rochelle High School on February 25.