This month, students around Central New York will return to the classroom – some for the first time since the pandemic first closed area schools in March of 2020.
Family Times recently talked to three local school districts about their preparations for the 2021/22 school year, what students can expect when they return to the classroom, and how parents can help ease the transition to in-person learning.
Please note: This information was up-to-date at the time of publication.
Auburn Enlarged City School District
Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo said there were two pieces to the district’s preparations for the 2021/22 school year. The first was academics. The district added teachers and teaching assistants – allowing for more small group instruction, and ultimately helping students get caught up with their studies – as well as school counselors and social workers.
“We have to get kids back in school. In-person learning is the best way to learn, so that is our main focus because we’ve seen the gaps that have been created in the past year and a half,” said Pirozzolo. “We’re putting a lot of things together to really address the learning loss…Really the planning this year was in personnel and hiring the right staff members.”
Pirozzolo said the district’s other focus has been health and safety. Like other schools in Central New York, students will be required to wear masks in all buildings and on all buses, and maintain a physical distance of three feet. Two air purifiers were also added to each classroom in the district.
“School has not felt or looked right the last year and a half. We all get into this profession because we love to work with our children,” said Pirozzolo. “We’re excited to have them back, but we still have to be very cautious, wear our face masks, and social distance the best we can. We’re going to continue to sanitize our buildings, we’re going to have our custodians cleaning and disinfecting every night. We will continue to do those things to keep the risk low. We want our children back and we want to keep our doors open the entire school year.”
Liverpool Central School District
The Liverpool Central School District resumed full-time in-person instruction on April 5. Superintendent Mark Potter said students will only notice one big change when they return this month.
“All the barriers are going to removed,” said Potter. “The CDC now has indicated that they do not want them in classrooms or in cafeterias dividing kids because it reduces airflow. Other than that, I think school is going to resemble school other than obviously wearing masks inside…We try to do our best to keep people spaced out. We’ll stagger our bells to make sure that the halls aren’t completely full.”
The district also added two air purification units to each of its approximately 715 classrooms, and is prioritizing its focus on mental health, adding new staff members in that area.
“Unfortunately, kids have been isolated for a lengthy period of time and it can have a lingering effect on their mental health. That is one of our priorities,” said Potter. “My message to the staff and the kids is don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends if you see them struggling. There isn’t necessarily a roadmap or a blueprint for how to fix things or how to address things. We just need to all be in this together and figure it out as we move through the school year.”
Syracuse City School District
Laura Kelley, the Syracuse City School District’s chief academic officer, said her district is taking a “safety first” approach. Students will wear masks and be physically distanced, and clear dividers will remain on all desks. And, like the Liverpool Central School District and Auburn Enlarged City School District, air purifiers have been added to all classrooms and learning spaces. The district will also focus on social-emotional support, adding guidance counselors, social work assistants, and family engagement program aids in all of its schools.
“We want to acknowledge that this has been a really hard 18 months for our staff, students, and families,” said Kelley. “While schools are places of learning, we want to also make sure that we’re providing a lot of support to kids too. That’s really something we want to communicate to everyone so that students, families, and staff don’t feel uncomfortable coming back into the building.”
For students returning to in-person learning, there are a few things parents can do to help ease the transition.
“I know personally, and from a district perspective, the more the information you can share, the more we can ask and answer questions, the better,” said Kelley. “When parents are talking to students about coming back, assure them that this is a safe environment, and this is a great way learn. You actually learn with your peers rather than just through a computer screen. And remind students that most of the work people are doing across the world is collaborative. You’re not working alone. Coming into school and engaging with your peers and the staff is really the most beneficial way to learn.”