Updated April 6, 2021 - 7:34 pm
Thousands of students poured onto Clark County School District campuses Tuesday in the final wave of reopening school buildings that were shuttered in March 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the first time in over a year, the district also is offering full-time in-person instruction for elementary students, some of whom returned to school buildings under a hybrid instruction model on March 1.
Secondary schools, meanwhile, welcomed back students in seventh, eighth, 10th and 11th grades in the hybrid instructional model. Their peers in sixth, ninth and 12th grades returned before spring break.
Tuesday’s reopening was also the first chance for fourth- and fifth-graders to return to in-person instruction in more than a year.
Tia Troutman, parent to a fifth grader at Tyrone Thompson Elementary School, said the year had had a major impact on grades and academics.
For the next few weeks, Troutman said she hoped schools would be able to pinpoint the most critical concepts students had missed to prepare for next year. To not reopen full-time in August would be catastrophic, she added.
“I’m ready. He is too,” Troutman said of returning. “I just wish it would have happened much sooner.”
Districtwide, a total of 77,662 elementary students and 61,479 secondary students returned to campuses for in-person instruction Tuesday, while another 170,008 students across all grades remain in distance learning.
In the last update on March 18, the district had 69,125 eligible elementary students — then just preschool to third graders — in hybrid learning.
Some schools have wait lists to return
With state-mandated capacity caps still in place, students at some schools are also on wait lists for in-person learning — but the district could not say how many, noting it does not “centrally compile” the data.
At Tyrone Thompson Elementary School, around 75 percent of students chose to return Tuesday, compared with just one-quarter on March 1. The jump was noticeable in the number of families waiting outside the school and making their way through the parking lot.
Inside the school, the biggest difference was in the number of chairs and spaces available to students, Principal Robert Hinchliffe said. But many of the school’s procedures stayed the same: Students waited outside to file through the front entrance. The cafeteria remained open, though older students will have lunch outside.
“It’s fun. It’s exciting,” Hinchliffe said of another reopening day. “We need excitement this time of year to get us through.”
Next up for the school is getting ready for state testing to take place in a matter of weeks, according to Hinchliffe.
The chance to do full-time in-person instruction drew in families who hadn’t opted for the hybrid learning model that became available for the youngest elementary students on March 1.
Archie Concon, father to a preschooler, said the family preferred full-time instruction to the hybrid model that saw elementary students attend school for two days and learn from home three days each week.
After a strange year and lots of adjusting to class schedules, Concon said he thought his son was excited to finally be on campus.
“We’ll find out today. It’s his first time away from home,” Concon said.
Theresa Biebel, parent to two Thompson students, said they opted to wait until full-time in-person instruction became available because of her own work schedule as a CCSD teacher.
‘They settled into a groove’
“There’s been ups and downs. Good and bad days,” Biebel said of the last year of virtual learning. “But I think they settled into a groove.”
Her son, Conner, said he was looking forward to “seeing everyone.”
At Neal STEAM Academy, an elementary school in northwest Las Vegas, parents watched from behind a fence as their children lined up with their classes on the school’s blacktop, where each teacher was carrying a sign displaying his or her name so students knew where to go.
Around 75 percent of the school’s approximately 550 students were signed up to attend in-person classes for the rest of the school year.
Principal Denise Murray said that every child whose families wanted them to receive full-time in-person instruction was accommodated and the school had no waiting list. Some teachers moved to larger spaces in the school — such as the music room, art room and library — to accommodate students while ensuring social distancing, she said.
Murray said Tuesday she’s excited about having all grade levels return to campus, noting she missed the students. She said she told teachers they can’t do everything in the last two months of the school year, but should gauge where students are academically and “go from there.”
Outside an entrance gate designated for first- and third-graders, mother Jenna Gholston waited with her two sons — each carrying a lunch box — until it was time for them to line up with their classes.
“We were ready,” she said of the return, adding that her kids were also excited because more of their classmates are coming back in person.
Gholston said the school was prepared to bring children back in person.
“I feel safe sending them back,” she said.
Parent Kanjalia Stidhum said she was excited to have her daughter — whom she described as a “social butterfly — on campus so she can have in-person interaction with others at school.
Her hopes for her fourth grader’s first day back Tuesday?
“I just want her to have a good day,” she said.
Some ‘doing well’ with distance learning
A quick drive away at Lied STEM Academy, children arrived on campus and entered through the main entrance under an arch made of blue balloons. Large signs were taped to the front entrance that read: “Welcome home, navigators.”
Principal Derek Fialkiewicz said about 60 percent of the school’s students are back in person — a higher number than he expected — while 40 percent are continuing with distance education.
“We actually have a lot of students doing well in the virtual model,” he said.
He said Lied STEM Academy has been a one-to-one Chromebook school – meaning there’s one laptop computer for every student – for years.
Superintendent Jesus Jara said the third and final wave of students returning to schools was a “great day for kids and the community.” He said that right now, the focus is wrapping up the school year.
The district has yet to announce its plans for the next school year, but Jara has said his hope is to offer full-time in-person instruction, with a distance learning option.
Jara also said conversations are underway with union bargaining units about summer learning:
“We have a lot of catching up to do,” he acknowledged.
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