Schools phase in students to help with new safety rules

Laura Freeman
Kent Weeklies
A temperature reader is at the entrance of Tallmadge Middle School, a sign of the different routines in the new school year.

TALLMADGE – The first day of school is filled with excitement and energy with a little tweaking to deal with the ongoing pandemic.

The kindergarten through fifth grade students were divided into three groups and each segment of the alphabet attended on Aug. 26, 27 or 28. The Blue day students attended Aug. 27 and Gold day students attended Aug. 28. Everyone was in school Aug. 31 with half days for kindergarten and the Blue and Gold alternating. The Tallmadge Online Academy began Aug. 27.

“It was very exciting and we’re happy to have our kids back,” said Superintendent Jeff Ferguson.

The students are in new schools with safe ventilation and air conditioning that was needed on days when temperatures soared.

“It’s fun to watch the elementary kids,” Ferguson said. “They’re not used to all this space, and it’s a campus now.”

The schools weren’t designed for a pandemic but the vision was for a wide-open campus, Ferguson said. The students share a tent between the elementary and middle school and are exploring the fields and stadium.

They have two breaks outside when they can remove their masks.

“They’re doing great with the masks,” Ferguson said. “They’re doing what is asked, and they’re very resilient and rise to the level of our expectations. We’re doing this together.”

One of the changes that is helping is allowing high school seniors to go home for lunch, which traditionally was only in the last quarter of school.

“There are certain things that cause congregation, and we want to avoid things like a traditional lunch,” Ferguson said. “Kids eat in their rooms, but each principal has done a nice job to create a schedule and rotate who eats in the lunchroom so they don’t have to eat in the classroom every day.”’

Seniors also decorated the hallways with slogans like “Ready together,” “Were in this together,” and “We can do this.”

“It’s nice to see the positive messages to the rest of the classes,” Ferguson said.

The staff spent two weeks getting ready for school and the collaborative effort between teachers, kitchen staff and custodians has been “awesome,” Ferguson said. “The prep work has made this happen.”

Instead of students gathering in the gym or cafeteria for pick up, parents have a car tag that goes on a computer screen and the teacher sends the student out with staff making sure the student gets in the right car, Ferguson said.

“Parents are glad to comply,” Ferguson said. “Kids get to go to school five days a week.”

Steve Wood, chief operating officer, said phasing in with fewer students was a great way to start the year and get used to new bus routes, procedures, food service and all the safety requirements. Stairs are marked up or down, and teachers went over masks wearing and bathroom protocols.

“It gave teachers a chance to spend time with students and explain how the year was going to proceed to keep them safe,” Wood said. “Currently 550 students are online and just over 1,800 students attend in person.”

“The kids are excited to be back,” Wood said. “Our teachers were thrilled to see some of their students they hadn’t seen in so long.”

One teacher handed out pieces of paper with air hugs on them.

“It was a cute way to engage the students,” Wood said. “Our teachers have been amazing. They’re anxious for good reason but have stepped up and are working through this. It’s been impressive.”

For success, families and the community need to practice safety protocols and avoid large gatherings, Ferguson said.

 “We need to do those things as a community to keep kids in school, which is what we all want,” he said.

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com