Soft starts for back to school begin Wednesday for Niles, Brandywine schools

NILES — Students will soon be back in the classrooms they left for the last time in the spring on March 13 due to COVID-19 mandates that shut down school buildings to in-person learning for students.

Brandywine Bobcats and Niles Vikings are preparing to return to classrooms this week in a phased in approach to beginning school.

At Brandywine Middle and High School on Monday morning, Assistant Principal Josh Hood was excited to be preparing to welcome students back to in-person learning.

Niles High School Principal Molly Brawley was making sure things were ready for students and parents to come through on Monday evening for meetings and open-houses.

“Elementary schools are doing a one-on-one parent conference with their teachers,” Brawley said. “We can’t do that because kids have seven classes. So, our freshmen are all doing an orientation tonight in three big sessions. Our 11th and 12th graders are meeting in small groups with at least one of their teachers.”

The small groups will address how to use Google Classroom in the case the schools need to go remote again as they in the spring.

Assistant Principal Josh Hood of Brandywine Middle/High School was also getting ready to welcome students into the building on Monday.

“I think everybody is excited to get back to school here,” Hood said.

On Monday at Brandywine Middle/High School, incoming seventh graders were allowed to come into the school with a parent or guardian to find their classes and meet their teachers. It was also the day to give their locker combinations a test run.

On Wednesday, each school will be beginning its phased-in back to school approach.

Brandywine Middle/High School will be welcoming its middle school students back first, while the high school students will have a remote-learning day. This way, middle schoolers can navigate their classes and school, some for the first time, with less pressure. The high school students will be required to check in remotely and likely complete some welcome assignments.

Niles High School will be dividing up its Wednesday and Thursday phased-in approach. On Wednesday, students at the high school with names beginning with letters A through K will be attending in person, while students with last names that begin with L through Z will log in to each of their classes online. Thursday, the groups will switch methods.

The phased in approaches will allow the administrators, educators and students to prepare for their first full day back on Tuesday, Sept. 8, after a four-day Labor Day weekend.
Both schools have had to alter certain aspects of students’ days, including passing period etiquette and lunch times.

Each school has added space for lunches. According to Hood, Brandywine Middle/High School has added seating on the bleachers in the gym. There will be added locations for lunch, including the court yard and football bleachers.

“This way, they can socially distance and eat outside,” Hood said.

For Niles High School, Brawley said the school has had to figure out coordination for six lunches. The students originally had two lunch periods between the schedules, but a third had to be added to allow fewer students in one room at a time. The staff also added seating in the school’s auxiliary gym.

“At the high school level, it is very difficult to social distance and cohort, so we are relying on the masks,” Brawley said. “At lunchtime, you have to take your mask to eat.”

The cafeteria has seats marked off with blue “x”s of masking tape, to denote spaces students should not sit. Limiting students per table is another way Brawley said staff hope to keep students safe. The lunch groups, divided into three times in two different rooms, results in six scheduled lunches. She hopes to rotate the groups back and forth between the two locations within the school, since there are no windows in the auxiliary gym.

The two school officials were both excited to have students back in their halls and classrooms. Each said the preparation both school districts have done with educators and administrators over the summer will hopefully result in less confusion if schools are mandated to close doors again due to COVID-19 cases rising.

“If we have to go shut down or go remote, hopefully it doesn’t happen, but we’ll be ready,” Hood said.

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