In-person kindergarten classes were back in session on Jan. 6 at Lakeridge (pictured), Northwood, Island Park and West Mercer elementaries. Photo courtesy of the Mercer Island School District

In-person kindergarten classes were back in session on Jan. 6 at Lakeridge (pictured), Northwood, Island Park and West Mercer elementaries. Photo courtesy of the Mercer Island School District

In-person school is back in session for kindergartners

Mercer Island School District reopens doors for kindergartners on Jan. 6.

Mercer Island School District kindergartners returned to in-person classes at 9:15 a.m. Jan. 6 at Lakeridge, Northwood, Island Park and West Mercer elementaries.

According to assistant superintendent Fred Rundle, the district received the green light from the Washington State Department of Health and the district’s risk management staff to open the doors. The district feels positive that this is the right time to begin kindergarten classes, Rundle said.

Teachers and students are wearing masks and desks are situated six feet apart. According to December enrollment figures, the 11 classrooms have a range between 12-15 students that returned Jan. 6 with one teacher per class and some support staff. The kindergartners’ in-person day runs from 9:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. — and includes a recess — with the rest of their day spent at home with remote and asynchronous learning.

“It’s different in the sense that we’ve worked for years and years and years trying to create community in classrooms by grouping kids in pods and desks together. We’re still focused on creating community — it’s just six feet apart,” Rundle said.

Superintendent Donna Colosky noted in a letter to school district families, staff and community on Dec. 18: “The Early Childhood program successfully and fully reopened at Northwood after Thanksgiving, which makes us confident kindergarten will be a success, allowing us to remain on schedule and bring first-graders back on January 19. The kindergarten and first-grade re-entry will drive decisions about the timing of bringing back the remaining elementary grade levels.”

Rundle said the district’s current plan, which will further be defined in the next week or so, calls for second- and third-graders to return sometime after the first-graders and so on throughout the grade levels over the coming months.

He said that according to a new toolkit sent out by the Department of Health, “As long as we’re demonstrating that we are controlling school transmission, we can continue to roll grade levels out.” The district’s overall goal is to have all students back in person — with some in a hybrid-learning scenario — by sometime in March, Rundle added.

Colosky noted in a previous Reporter story that the district’s reopening plan has always focused on beginning with their youngest students and those students who are most impacted with their education.

According to Department of Health guidelines, “In-person learning should be prioritized for elementary school students (along with preschool and kindergarten) because they may be less likely to spread COVID-19 than older children, have more difficulty learning asynchronously, and may otherwise need to be in a childcare setting if their parent(s) or primary caregiver(s) work.”

On Jan. 6, Rundle greeted students and spoke with some parents at Lakeridge before school began, and other district staffers fanned out across the other schools to provide support.

“I had text messages flying by 9:20 that all the schools had students in the classrooms, and (health) attestations completed. It was a really successful start to the school day,” said Rundle, noting that students arrived on buses or with their parents in cars or on foot. Students sit physically distanced on buses and certain windows are open for ventilation, Rundle added.

While visiting with parents, Rundle said that everyone is experiencing a range of emotions returning to school in a pandemic. It’s a new situation and they’re all trying to clear the first hurdles of resuming in-person learning.

“I think, by and large, the general sentiment was we worked extremely hard. Our nurses did an incredible job readying our community and our schools to be as safe as possible and bring our students back,” he said.

Relationships are a vital part of the school community, said Rundle, adding that one of their values is supporting the whole child — socially, emotionally and academically — and they can better meet those needs through in-person education.

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A kindergarten teacher greets students outside at Lakeridge Elementary School on Jan. 6. Photo courtesy of the Mercer Island School District

A kindergarten teacher greets students outside at Lakeridge Elementary School on Jan. 6. Photo courtesy of the Mercer Island School District

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