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Back in classrooms

Warren district makes transition to full-time, in-person schooling

Staff photo / Allie Vugrincic Kindergarten teacher Braning Street talks to students in his class at Williard PK-8 school. Approximately two-thirds of the 5,000 Warren City School students have returned to in-person learning five days per week.

WARREN — About two-thirds of Warren City School District’s approximately 5,000 students returned to in-person learning five days per week over the last two weeks, while the remaining students have remained fully remote, according to Superintendent Steve Chiaro.

Since the beginning of this school year, the majority of Warren’s students have been operating under the district’s hybrid system, attending in-person classes two days per week and remotely on the other three days.

Preschool and kindergarten students have been attending in-person five days per week since the beginning of the school year.

Warren’s 12th-grade students have been allowed to remain fully remote unless their principals find they have fallen sufficiently behind in their classes that would prevent them graduating.

According to Chiaro, this year’s graduating class has 260 students.

Chiaro said the district has been preparing for students to return to five-days-per-week, in-person instruction since schools were closed to in-person classes in March 2020. School officials had to learn the circumstances and guidelines for their return.

The district has used a portion of the approximately $17.2 million it received in the Elementary Secondary School Emergency Relief funding from the federal and state governments to purchase personal protective equipment, cleaning devices and materials, hand sanitizers, laptops and hot spots, as well as to upgrade its buildings’ HVAC equipment.

It also leveraged money to bring in staff to do increased cleaning in the buildings throughout the day and after they closed.

“Our teachers, staff and students have been doing cleaning of their areas, so there has been continual cleaning and sanitizing all during the school day,” Chiaro said.

Students are all 3 to 6 feet apart, depending on the recommendations of the Ohio Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he noted.

“The CDC recently stated students fifth grade and younger may be 3 feet apart,” Chiaro said. “The guidelines are students that are from sixth to 12th grades should be 6 feet, unless you’ve exhausted all other options. There are definitely some hardship student cases.”

Each desk has been outfitted with plexiglass barriers, and students wear masks during the school day.

Plexiglass barriers have been provided for tables in cafeterias at those schools that have their students eat lunch in them. However, whether students eat their meals in cafeterias or in their classrooms has been left up to individual school principals.

Chiaro said teachers will be concentrating on student core subjects to ensure they are fundamentally strong in those areas.

The district is expected to announce its extended year learning plan after the spring break. All students will have the opportunity to attend classes through June.

“We are hoping we have more of our students at our schools during the summer of 2021,” Chiaro said. “We want to support ongoing learning after the end of the regular school year.”

Chiaro said teachers constantly are making assessments of the district’s students to determine if any have developed learning gaps over the last year due to the change from being in class to a hybrid format.

“We created our own hybrid plan,” Chiaro said.

Warren students were in classrooms two days per week and learning remotely three days. However, even on those days when they worked virtually, their teachers made frequent contacts, so they could monitor and assess where they were in their classes.

In returning to school five days per week, Chiaro emphasized the students are working with the same teachers they have been with all year long.

“This has made it a smooth transition,” he said.

Chiaro said the district did lose some students during this school year, but the majority of those were in the prekindergarten and the kindergarten age ranges.

The loss of prekindergarten students was in part because of space limitation in their classrooms. Parents of some kindergarten-age students decided to keep their children home for another year.

“We are hoping that many of these parents will decide to send their children to school when we open next year,” Chiaro said.

The superintendent described losing some first- through 12th-grade students to private schools that were open five days per week. However, Chiaro said the number of students lost was not much more than in other nonpandemic years.

Willard PK-8 Principal Michelle Chiaro said a lot of preparation went into bringing students back.

“Everything has worked out fairly well,” she said. “We are so happy to have them all back.”

She also said the teachers and parents have been very cooperative and everyone, including the students, have been working together.

Michelle Chiaro said all students, including kindergarten students, sit at desks and must wear masks.

The kindergarten through third-grade students and their teachers eat lunch in their classrooms. Hot lunches are wheeled in on carts and are served by the teachers.

In the students’ technology class, which is considered one of their “specials,” laptops are wheeled in so the students can use them at their own desks. The laptops are numbered so each student gets the same one every time.

Warren G. Harding Principal Dante Capers said having students back in classrooms five days per week has made it feel like school again.

“Generally, there is a sense of relief from the kids,” Capers said. “They’re relieved to be back in a more familiar setting and experiencing a familiar delivery of instruction.”

Melanie Hameed, a Harding English teacher and president of the Warren Education Association, described her teachers missing the daily interactions with their students.

“The students are so resilient and have been wonderful through everything they’ve faced this past year,” she said.

“The past two weeks have gone so wonderfully,” she said. “Everyone is working together to make sure we’re on track for our students’ educational needs, but also for everyone’s health and well-being.”

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