Blacksburg elementary school principal attributes team effort to successful first day back

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 4:57 AM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Montgomery County is one of the districts heading back to school the week after Labor Day. Students at Prices Fork Elementary returned Tuesday. Their new classroom setup is becoming a familiar sight with students' desks six feet apart, individual supply bins and everyone wearing masks.

“We’ve got students here face-to-face," Principal Kelly Roark said. "We’ve got students at home learning virtually and remotely with teachers this morning.”

She described the hallways inside the elementary school as a bit of a time capsule.

“We were preparing in March for our annual fine arts night when the governor made the decision to close schools, so the kids were very excited to see that it was still here this morning and have that familiar artwork connecting when they walked in.”

Many things aren’t familiar this year as students and teachers figure out their new routines.

“Lots of changes; lots of work over the summer," she said. " Lots of technology training with Google Classroom and Google Meet to help our remote learners feel like they’re in the classroom with their teacher.”

In Montgomery County, elementary students are going to school half a day, four days a week, with Wednesdays being a deep-cleaning day.

“Right now we have 24 classroom teachers, so one of those in each grade is teaching remotely," Roark said. "And then we have about 115 students who are learning remotely and about 300 who are coming face-to-face, half in the morning, half in the afternoon.”

Roark explained teachers have taken the same education goals and principles as years past and simply changed the teaching format.

“We’re providing that a.m. and p.m. experience, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. or 1-4 p.m. So between 12 and 1, we’re doing a lot of deep cleaning, sanitizing of those desks and chairs for that B Group in to that clean, sanitized environment.”

There are also some classrooms that don’t have students in them at all as teachers use those empty spaces for teaching the students who are learning remotely.

“Some teachers have remote students in the morning and face-to-face in the afternoon," Roark said. "Here at Prices Fork we actually have a lot of teachers who are fully remote.”

Principal Roark said day one was a success in large part due to the whole community working together.

“It’s taken everybody to make this happen today and we’re appreciative of that. We have parents, teachers and community members who are really thankful that all of that answer has gone into such a a safe, smooth start.”

And though the school year is off to a different start than everyone is used to, Roark says her goal for the year remains the same.

“I think our biggest hope is that through these models, whether they be remote or face-to-face, we’re able to keep that high instructional standard that we want for our students," she said. "We’re working through our routines with cleanliness and safety, but we want to hold our instruction as a top priority and I think we can do that.”

She also hopes students and teachers do get to stay in school, but added all the teachers are prepared to make changes if the reopening phases change and they are required to scale back.

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