GALLERY: Soft start for students begins at Niles, Brandywine schools

NILES — Yellow school busses lined up outside of schools Wednesday morning, with partially filled rows of seats of anxious students. A new middle schooler jiggled his locker handle after memorizing the combination over the weekend. Two first graders skipped to the school door.

In-person classes began for some students Wednesday in Niles. Students arrived wearing masks and backpacks ready to get back into the classroom.

For Niles Community Schools and Brandywine Community Schools, there will be three first days of class. Wednesday was the first day of a two-day soft start plan, with all students returning together on Tuesday, Sept. 8, after the Labor Day weekend. In most school buildings in each district, about half of the students were present for the first day of in-person instruction since students left last year on March 13, when COVID-19 mandates shuttered the school buildings.

Niles High School, students with last names that began with A through K arrived for Wednesday, while L through Z names logged in virtually for classes. Thursday, the two groups will switch places.

The hallways at Brandywine Middle/High School were quiet — and nearly empty — as the bell rang for first period. With just the middle school students arriving on Wednesday, the school only saw about 200 arrive for the first, soft-start day of the school year.

“This will help them get back in the routine of things, like meeting their teachers, opening their lockers,” said Karen Weimer, superintendent of Brandywine Community Schools. “I felt their excitement as the kids were coming in.”

Weimer said Brandywine Middle/High School welcomed back just around 200 students Wednesday for the first day. The first day of the soft-start schedule included the seventh and eighth grade students.

“Our biggest goal is to keep them together in groups,” Weimer said. “They come in the door and we get them headed where they need to go. They don’t have time to gather before class.”

Keeping the hallways clear and open for transition between classes is something Weimer hopes will continue according to plan. The students will have designated times to visit their lockers, and will carry their books and supplies between classes in their backpacks.

The soft-start is meant for both the students and the educators to acclimate to the new processes surrounding COVID-19 precautions.

Across town at Ballard Elementary School in the Niles Community School District, parents lined up in their cars eagerly to drop off their Kinder Connection, kindergarten, first and second grade students. The school system’s elementary schools all divided up student arrivals for the first two days.

Niles Community Schools Superintendent Dan Applegate and Assistant Superintendent Donna Roark were on hand to greet students as they arrived.

Busses arrived and lined up to drop off the students. At each of the drop off points, administrators and educators were on-site to welcome students back and get them to their classrooms safely. Each student getting off of their bus was given a reminder of the color-coded bus they would need to find at the end of the day, with their teachers also taking note.

“This is their first year. We are helping them figure out the process,” Applegate said. “Once they learn the process, it will work out beautifully.”

Applegate had been on-site at the high school and Ring Lardner Middle School Wednesday morning as well.

“[Those two schools] went very well this morning,” he said. “It’s a phase-in approach. At Ring Lardner, we had the sixth graders, which are the ones that don’t know the process.”

 

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