ALDEN, NY (WKBW) — “Our community wanted kids back in school,” declared Adam Stoltman, superintendent, Alden Central School District.
It was the first day of school for Alden students. But they return to many new changes to keep students, faculty and staff safe during the COVID pandemic.
That familiar sound of students chatting in a school cafeteria was back, but if you look closely, gone are the lunch tables. It’s now set up like a classroom with Alden high schoolers spaced six feet apart.
“So incredible changes that students arrived to this morning,” Stoltman said.
Students in K-12 returning for the first time in months.
“It's been a long time coming. Since March, our kids have not been in this building, so it was exciting to welcome them back to school today,” remarked Kevin Ryan, principal, Alden High School.
But not all Alden students are attending school on the same days.
Students are broken up into two groups, blue and gold. For this week, blue returned Tuesday and the gold group will begin their first day Wednesday.
This Thursday no students will be attending. The day will be set aside for the superintendent to hold a meeting with school staffers to reevaluate the reopening plan.
But once students return after the Labor Day holiday, Stotlman said the cohort groups would attend Mondays and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and alternate Wednesdays. This will mean only 50-percent of the population will be in the schools.
On days students are not in classrooms, they would work from home remotely.
The superintendent said students at the high school, Alden Middle, Intermediate School and Alden Primary are selected for the blue and gold groups based on households to make it a smooth transition for families.
7 Eyewitness News asked Stotlman what the single biggest challenge is he is facing.
“I think, for us, is to normalize school for kids,” responded Stotlman.
Principal Ryan said getting into a daily routine with all the new protocols will be challenging.
“Whether it's the one-way hallways or stairwells or looking up your schedule or routines for things like lunch, so it's just the daily routines,” described Ryan.
Students will be allowed to remove masks, but only when they are six feet apart.
“The mask must get placed back on the face if the teacher is going to do any movement within the classroom — much like a restaurant,” Stotlman explained.
The challenge for teachers is educating students both in the classroom and remotely.
“They have half the students in front of them and half of them at home — learning remotely, so it's just trying to juggle that,” responded Ryan.
School cleaners are also making sure areas touched the most are repeatedly cleaned.
The superintendent says parents must do temperature checks and health screenings at home. But if a student does shows up with covid symptoms, the schools will be ready.
“Those students would be put in an isolation room — we will contact the home,” Stotlman said.
There are approximately 1,650 students in K-12 in the Alden schools with 150 teachers and teaching assistants. Fewer than 100-students opted for all remote learning.
The superintendent said because Alden is one of the first area districts to start school this week, other districts will be keeping a close watch on how the reopen plan was executed.
“Our colleagues around Western New York are interested to see how things went today and tomorrow,” Stotlman stated.
Principal Ryan said they will go above and beyond to make sure no student slips through the cracks during this unprecedented school year.