SHELTON — The school district’s back to school plans have created a safe environment for students during the pandemic, according to one city high schooler.

Shelton High School freshman Simrin Khan joined Waterbury Superintendent Verna D. Ruffin and two Connecticut-based scientists, Dr. Mari Armstrong-Hough and Dr. Anne Wyllie, as featured speakers on a webinar titled “Connecticut Gears up for Back to School: A COVID-19 Crash Course.”

The webinar, held last week, was hosted by Shelton-based nonprofit Be (A)Part. Since the webinar was held, COVID-19 cases in Connecticut have continued to rise and some schools have paused in-person learning.

Khan said he believes what Shelton High School is doing is fair, safe and working.

“We can’t all expect everything to get back to normal quickly,” said Khan, adding that students’ main concern is connecting with friends while staying safe and continuing to learn. “Let’s be honest, not all of us spend the whole days learning. We still want to experience the fun parts of school.”

The webinar was designed to open a dialogue between students, teachers, parents and scientists around school reopening, safety procedures and how parents and student leaders can help the community going forward.

Connecticut is projected to have more than 5,000 daily COVID-19 infections by Jan. 1, according to the The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Dr. Armstrong-Hough is an assistant professor of public health at New York University’s School of Global Public Health. She is an epidemiologist and sociologist who studies active case-finding for infectious diseases. She is also co-designing a research and community action plan with Connecticut youth through Be (A)Part.

“The only way we’re likely to be effective in responding to COVID-19 is as a community,” she said.

Wyllie agrees; she has been advising school COVID-19 testing procedures as they reopen.

“We must consider human behavior, especially as students come back together,” Wyllie said. “Be (A)Part has been really good at thinking about the community as whole.”

Khan said appearing with distinguished individuals was intimidating at first, but she said she quickly felt at ease speaking her mind.

“I realized that it shouldn’t matter what age I am. We all have important ideas to bring to the conversation and age shouldn’t limit you to express those ideas,” Khan said.

Khan, when speaking of Shelton High, said the administration has many strict rules which have produced a “good outcome.

“I agree with the hybrid method of both online and in person,” Khan said. “I think the school can try to think outside the box more ... like create more distance but an environment good enough by creating more outdoor experience ... trying to make the students schedules a certain way so they don’t make much contact with the stairs ... or having class in different locations to create distance.”

Ruffin said that community and communication allowed Waterbury Public Schools to develop solutions to ease fears by parents and community members.

“Community forums (in Waterbury) helped people connect so they could understand what we were getting ready to do,” Ruffin said.

She also explained that the forums helped Waterbury Public Schools find out key factors critically important to parents, teachers and representatives from various unions, including nurses and maintenance staff.

Yale junior Kate Kelly and UConn senior Brooke Seymour moderated the webinar. Kelly is originally from Massachusetts and Seymour is originally from the town of Seymour. Both have been actively working with Be (A)Part since last spring.

At the conclusion of the webinar, Kelly and Seymour announced that Be (A)Part will be hosting more webinars.

Be (A)Part also announced it is starting high school programming and internships to support healthy and safe elections and schools. Visit www.beapart.org/voting-challenge for more information and to apply. A recording of Be (A)Part’s Back to School webinar can be viewed on YouTube.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com