NORTH SMITHFIELD – Students returning to in-school instruction on Tuesday, Sept. 15 impressed administrators, following guidelines for mask-wearing and distancing, according to discussion at a virtual School Committee meeting that same night.
The first day, by all accounts, went relatively smoothly, with kids adapting to new rules set out for them by state health officials. The students have been unable to attend since March, and limited to distance instruction since state officials ordered mandatory closures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
“They were amazing. They were so serious,” said Supt. Michael St. Jean, reacting to behavior of the younger students.
“We had a lot of happy parents today,” said North Smithfield Elementary School Prinicpal Jennifer Daigneault of the student return, adding that many parents changed their minds about distance learning, opting instead to have their child attend in-person at the last minute. “That definitely posed a huge challenge.”
Still, Daigneault said, “Today went really, really well.”
“The kids were amazing,” agreed North Smithfield Middle School Principal John Lahar. “We had a very successful open. I was very proud of us today.”
“This is such a new experience for me in my 20-plus years of administration,” added Lahar.
In North Smithfield, on the first official day of school on Monday, Sept. 14, all students had a day of remote learning, and the first day each week will be reserved for virtual instruction through the upcoming months. The district has opted for a partial return, dividing students in “cohorts,” alphabetically, with all whose names start with the letters A through L attending in-person on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and M through Z to occupying classrooms on Thursdays and Fridays.
“It was calm. It was orderly,” said St. Jean of the student return. “The kids were smiling and talking, but they were maintaining distance. It was just a marvelous experience. I don’t know whether it’s just being so happy to have have kids back, or the kids themselves, and how they performed. I would have to say both.”
Principal Timothy McGee said that at the high school, there was some difficulty with the initial orientation due to new safety rules that made the process take longer than expected. Unlike past years, when multiple grade levels crowded into the auditorium, hallways have been limited to one-way traffic, and capacity in the large room was lowered. As a result, McGee said the students missed two periods of instruction on Tuesday.
“I didn’t do it correctly. I should have allowed more time,” McGee said. “I had distance learning students logging into their classrooms but we weren’t ready for them.”
McGee noted that in the future, he will be able to communicate directly with the students learning remotely if there are any issues.
“It’s learning,” McGee said. “I’ve got to figure it out, and we will.”
“The kids are being great,” he added.
Administrators also had kind words for the teachers, who have adapted learning plans amid changing directives.
“What we’re teaching, and how we’re teaching, is different,” said Asst. Supt. Claire Arnold. “We’re focusing in on critical standards. It’s been pretty amazing, and it is a testament to our teachers.”
School Committee Chairman James Lombardi said he received no complaints from parents.
And Lombardi said at the end of the school day, “I know my kids were very happy, and they were not beforehand.”