Hybrid kicks off at Sumter district's schools; safety a big focus, amid coronavirus era

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A safety mindset, excitement and probably some jitters were all part of the first day of hybrid instruction at Cherryvale Elementary School in Sumter School District.

Teachers and administrators spoke Thursday after classroom instruction began at 7:30 a.m. at the school just off U.S. 378 at 1420 Furman Drive, near Shaw Air Force Base.

First-year principal Pamela Rhodes estimated about 90 of the school's 225 students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade took part in the hybrid model on Thursday and Friday.

The model consists of two days of in-person, classroom instruction per week for the school's youngest learners if parents prefer that option. The blended learning also consists of two days of virtual, real-time instruction per week for students via their Chromebooks from home. The fifth day - each Wednesday - is set aside for independent learning via the computer from home while teachers receive professional development. Building services staff will also deep-clean each school that day.

On Thursday, about 40 kids attended hybrid/blended learning at the school, Rhodes said. Another 50 attended Friday as students rotate on a "A/B schedule," she said. Group A students will receive in-person, classroom instruction from teachers on Mondays and Thursdays. Group B students are at school on Tuesdays and Fridays.

After beginning the school year in a fully virtual capacity on Aug. 28, the local district is now beginning Phase 1 of its transition to a hybrid model, amid the coronavirus era. District officials have said additional phasing in of students in other grades to hybrid instruction will be contingent on schools' COVID-19 incidence rates from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

First-grade teacher Dahlia Konnert said a major focus currently is on safety.

"Safety is so important because I know there is so much depending on us getting this correct," Konnert said. "If we are able as pre-K, kindergarten and first grade to do this well and keep our kids and therefore their families safe, then the rest of the school and all the other children can come back, which frees parents up to going back to work. So, we are ensuring that we are starting out with really strict guidelines and being very, very careful."

In regard to safety protocols at Cherryvale, Rhodes said, students in all three grades will stay in their respective classrooms for the two days each week of hybrid instruction. Related arts teachers will come to the classrooms to give instruction, and restrooms are located inside each classroom for the school's youngest learners.

In preparation for hybrid learning, school administrators ensured no classroom will have more than 10 students at one time. Most had three to six children on Thursday, Rhodes said.

Another emphasis is on the children's social/emotional well-being, she added. This is the first time children have been in school since mid-March.

"A big focus is also on social/emotional learning," Rhodes said. "We're trying to make sure the kids are in a good place emotionally to be here. It's the first time they have been separated from their parents and families in months."