Experience, knowledge key as Region 15 schools reopen Tuesday with less COVID-19 related stress

Region 15 Superintendent Joshua Smith

Region 15 Superintendent Joshua Smith

Region15.org photo

With the first day of school for Region 15 schools approaching on Aug. 31, Superintendent Joshua Smith is feeling a lot better in 2021 than he did in 2020 when it comes to reopening schools and dealing with COVID-19.

“The largest difference this year, compared to last year’s school reopening, is that we have a great deal more knowledge about how to keep staff and students safe and how to operate schools successfully,” Smith said. “Our staff is much more prepared for the year ahead and much of the anxiety and fear that surrounded the first day of school last year is no longer present, or at least it’s at a much more manageable level.

“Last year, we couldn’t open our high school on a regular schedule and had to run in a hybrid day structure. This year all of our students will begin the year on a full day schedule.”

A year ago, heading into the 2020-2021 school year, one concern for Smith was that the first day of school might have a negative impact on kindergarten students going to school for the first time having to deal with masks and COVID-19 protocols.

“A year ago, the opening and operation plan was new to everyone and we really had no experience as to how things would work,” Smith said. “We didn’t know how our students would respond and tried to anticipate what would happen. What we learned was that we vastly underestimated our students. They are resilient, optimistic and understanding.

“We never had an issue with students and their understanding of the changes we had to make in order to be in school every day. Even our youngest learners worked to follow our mitigation plans and we had none of the masking issues we thought would arise. As we enter this year we know that our students are partners in keeping our schools open and are capable of navigating whatever needs to be done for them to remain in school.”

Smith said administrators, teachers and students are looking forward to a full time, more “normal” in-person format for learning and personal interaction.

“By the end of the 2021 school year, the vast majority of our students were back in school and we were no longer running an alternating school day at Pomperaug High school,” Smith said. “Everyone is looking forward to a more consistent instructional setting. We learned last year that, while there is a place for online learning and it works for some students, a fully remote learning environment for all students as well as a hybrid structure with some in person and some remote, just isn’t as effective.

“For both adults and students, the interactive dialogue that takes place in our classrooms is far more complicated to recreate in an online environment. Moving forward we will continue to manage whatever challenges we face as a result of the global pandemic. But we are moving beyond crisis management and back to our mission of student learning.”