Back to school, finally

Gladbrook-Reinbeck excited to resume after five months

Gladbrook-Reinbeck elementary students step off the school bus for their first day of the 2020/21 school year. Students are all wearing masks which is a school requirement this year when they can’t social distance. Allison Graham/North Tama Telegraph

After 161 days watching, waiting, video chatting, and quarantining; students and staff at Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District finally had the opportunity to return to class.

The first day of school came on Monday and was met with excitement and anticipation as school staff have been hard at work over the summer preparing to hold classes with new COVID-19 safety procedures and students simply wondering when they could see their friends again.

“Everybody was grateful to be social and back in school,” 7-12 English Teacher Greg Tessendorf said. “There were a lot of adjustments that were made but it was exciting to see people make it work. I was impressed with the students willing to wear their masks.”

Morning arrival at the Gladbrook-Reinbeck Elementary building was a joyous occasion as Principal Shaun Lehmann piped in some dance music to welcome students as they made their way into the building. A handful of teachers were also out front wearing their clear plastic face shields so students could see a smiling face upon their arrival.

Parents who brought their students to school hung around for the obligatory first day of school photo session and left their kids with hugs, encouragement, and a few tears.

Gladbrook-Reinbeck High School students head to school Monday for the first day of the 2020/21 school year. Photo Provided

“My whole feeling on the first day was excitement,” Lehmann said. “I was just excited for the day to finally get here. It almost felt like being a little kid waiting for a vacation, like it’s never going to get here. But the day finally came and it was like I got to go to Disney World or something. I know our teachers and staff were eager to have their students back too. It was just such a community vibe that morning with all the kids getting dropped off and parents taking pictures. Everybody was on board and it felt like a community effort.”

Although the first day of school is often full of its own unique emotions, activities, and challenges; the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools across the country to implement new procedures so that school can continue with an eye toward safety and coronavirus prevention.

At Gladbrook-Reinbeck students began the school year using an on site model of instruction where all grade levels returned to the classrooms five days per week. Students and staff are required to wear personal protective equipment including face coverings during the day, particularly in the hallways, on buses, and times when social distancing cannot easily be followed.

Classrooms have been spaced out to allow for students, in most cases, to be socially distanced in class.

Traffic flow through the school day was considered in preparation and protocols such as staggered arrival times were put in place to avoid cross-traffic in the hallways or entering and exiting the buildings.

New Gladbrook-Reinbeck Elementary principal, Shawn Lehmann (right), is ready for his first day with students. He welcomes students into the building Monday. Photo Provided

Students were also asked to bring their own water bottle to school as the use of drinking fountains is temporarily prohibited.

Some of the hallmark activities of a traditional first day back to school were adjusted or postponed.

The 7-12 building was able to hold a socially distanced assembly in the auditorium while the Elementary classrooms participated in a virtual assembly with each class staying in their rooms and video conferencing together.

The traditional flag raising assembly at the 7-12 building was unfortunately postponed while social distancing is being required.

Despite all of the adjustments, school administrators felt like the weeks and months of preparation had paid off toward a positive first day.

Gladbrook-Reinbeck students head to school for the first day of the 2020/21 school year Monday. Darvin Graham/Sun Courier

“I thought we had a very productive first day,” 7-12 Principal Andy McQuillen said. “It was a mellow first day. But I think the word that sums it up was that it was a hot first day.”

Temperatures hung around or above 90 degrees with 50-70% humidity all week, making for an uncomfortable environment for students and staff residing in rooms with no air conditioning.

“I thought our kids wanted to be here and took the social distancing and mask requirements serious,” McQuillen said. “I thought our staff did a really nice job working with kids and getting them back into a routine.”

While the majority of G-R students have returned to on site learning, families were still given the option to keep their student on 100% virtual instruction.

There are around 35 students district-wide that will be attending classes virtually for the first trimester.

At the Elementary those students are utilizing online programs such as Seesaw or Google Classroom to deliver assignments and instructions at home. Parents are also offered “i can” statements through the online platforms that give them weekly targets to track as the student moves through the virtual instruction.

At the 7-12 building students attending virtually are offered a mixture of live video instruction, online coursework through Google Classrooms, and classes through a third party curriculum vendor called Edmentum that can assist with some of the non-core classes.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good balance,” McQuillen said. “Our staff has really embraced it all and by and large, I think we learned a lot from the spring that we will take forward and be able to use throughout trimester one, if not more.”

Following the first day of school, both administrators expressed optimism toward how their students and staff handled the new year amid the coronavirus challenges.

“Kids just did an awesome job being responsible with their masks throughout the day,” Lehmann said. “My belief is that you can never put a limit on a kid in terms what they can accomplish. If you said six months ago that every kid in the building would be wearing a mask and the day would go smoothly, I would have said there’s no way possible. I was just really impressed by all the kids.”

“Everybody is having a first day of school today, whether you’re in year one or year 31,” McQuillen said. “I think that levels the playing field a little bit. Our staff’s preparation was very strong even though it’s looked very different from the past. I think that we did everything we could to make sure it was a successful first day.”