Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings gives an elbow bump greeting to a student March 2 at Mount Vernon Community School. ACPS students returned to in-person classes after nearly a year of virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Janet Barnett/Gazette Packet
After nearly a year of virtual learning, Alexandria City Public Schools began the process of returning students to the classroom with a hybrid learning plan that began March 2.
“We have been looking forward to this day since last year,” said Mount Vernon Community School Principal Liza Burrell-Aldana as she welcomed teachers and students back to the school for the first time since March 13, 2020.
“Just watching the kids, seeing them learning safely today is everything. To all of us teachers and administrators, it’s just been a great day.”
At MVCS, 63 percent of the staff have returned for the hybrid learning model that separates students into two groups for alternating in-person classes two days per week.
“Our pre-k students have returned for either Tuesday-Wednesday or Thursday-Friday classes with anywhere between six and nine kids in each classroom,” Burrell-Aldana said of the only dual-language school in the ACPS system.
Burrell-Aldana said that 21 of the 39 MVCS classrooms have a regular teacher in place with others using teachers via classroom monitors.
“This has been a one-year process,” Burrell-Aldana said. “Our teachers have done a great job educating our children through this virtual learning experience and making sure they are still learning despite all the odds and the distance.”
Nine-year-old Luis Aleman was excited to return to school for the first time in a year.
“It’s been tough studying at home all year,” Aleman said. “I have two siblings who don’t let me do anything so it’s good to be back here.”
Aleman said that the students are staying six feet apart, washing their hands and practicing social distancing.
“For recess we walked around the school building,” Aleman said. “We can’t play on the playground because it’s not social distancing.”
Fourth grade MVCS teacher Emily Porterfield was excited to be returning to the classroom.
“It’s an incredibly proud moment to be back here today,” said the 23-year ACPS veteran. “It was 351 days ago that we really had to pivot as teachers, but we remained flexible in collaborating and working with each other to keep schools open the entire time. Now we are just opening the physical classroom space.”
March 2 marked the return of about 1,200 special needs students in kindergarten through fifth grade, including students in grades K-5 receiving English Learner services. ACPS will open March 9 for special education students then fully reopen to hybrid learning for all students on March 16. Safety protocols are in place including Plexiglas screens at desks that have been spaced at least six feet apart.
“We want to be providing a safe learning environment for our students,” said ACPS superintendent Gregory Hutchings Jr. “We will work with our kids on social distancing and families have an option to move from hybrid to virtual learning. Everybody has to make the right choice for their student and we’re willing to accommodate and work with them.”
Hutchings added that each ACPS facility has PPE equipment, social distancing signage, antibacterial gel and hand washing stations throughout the building.
“We also have a health annex for anyone experiencing any symptoms during the school day, making sure there is a location where they can be isolated from the general population,” Hutchings said. “While having the COVID-19 vaccine is not a requirement for teachers to return to the schools, we are working with the Alexandria Health Department to make sure that any staff member who wants the vaccine can get it.”
The two days per week in-person learning model is expected to continue for the rest of the school year.
“The best part of today has been watching the kids get off the bus and get into the classroom,” Burrell-Aldana said. “It was a sense of relief and joy for all of us.”