For the first time in six months, students will enter classrooms in Hopkins County next week when in-person classes begin for the first time since March.

On the weekend before the return, teachers say they are anxious, excited and glad to have their students back in class.

This past week, students attended a soft opening, or rather an orientation, to what this year’s new normal will look like. Hanson Elementary Kindergarten teacher Mandy Ralston said the soft openings gave teachers a feel for what’s to come.

“Coming into it, we were super nervous, but once we got in here with the kids in person — it felt great, it felt good, it felt normal,” she said. “Next week, we’re ready to be flexible and to ease into it and getting to know the students and teaching them those safety roles and routines and getting used to being together again.”

Next week, Hopkins County Schools will start its hybrid model of learning. Each school has three groups, Group “A,” Group “B” and remote-only learners. Students in Group “A” attend in-person classes Mondays and Tuesdays, while “B” students attend Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be used for deep cleanings at each school. Some schools will also use this time to set up meetings with parents.

Grapevine Elementary teachers Christy Estrada and Sherri Padgett said they are looking forward to seeing their students face to face again.

“I’m looking forward to having true interaction without a screen between us, and for them to have more interaction with others,” Padgett said.

Estrada looks forward to small class sizes during the hybrid model. Because students rotate, half the students will be out of the classroom.

“Our days aren’t going to be as hectic as if we had 25 in our classroom,” she said. “A lot of one on one, and we’ll be able to target these children with individual plans.”

A concern from Grapevine students during the soft opening was if they’ll have a mask break. Estrada said they would schedule a mask break in their day when the students are socially distanced, and only when they are outside.

“We’ve asked our principal if we could do our reading lesson out on the front lawn, and everybody stays six-feet apart, maybe get a little cushion out there and read, just to be able to breathe,” she said.

At West Hopkins School, middle school teacher Deanna Brown said it’s been wonderful to see the students.

“To see how much they’ve grown. My eighth graders — their voices are changing — that’s been amazing,” she said. “And being able to recognize them with the mask on, that’s been interesting.”

In her 29th year teaching, Brown said working with the technology and knowing she’s going to juggle virtual and in-person learning has been overwhelming.

“But, when the kids started coming for the soft opening this week, just seeing them makes it all better,” she said. “That’s why I do it.”

West Hopkins elementary teacher Cassie Rice said having students back in the classroom and getting ready to do work, gives her a sense of normalcy.

“We’re excited. Seeing my kids come in this week and just looking at how much they’ve already adapted to all the changes without me having to really teach them a lot, that makes our job easier when they adapt very easily at such a young age,” she said.

The Cardinal’s principal, Eric Stone, said as they prepare for next week, a couple of things he’d like students to know is their bus route numbers, which will help students understand how to get home. He also wanted parents to know their children only meet in person two days a week. The other three days are remote, learning.

“We hope that parents understand that masks are required of the students in 1st- through eighth grade,” he said. “We would like to remind parents that when students are not at school, when it’s not their in-person day, they still will have virtual lessons online for the remaining days of the week.”

At Hopkins County Central High School, Principal Jon Wells said there are three things his parents need to know to prepare for next week’s hybrid model.

“They need to know their child will be required to wear a mask. They need to know, as always, their child will not be allowed to carry a backpack, other than into the school buildings at the beginning of the day, that has not changed,” he said. “And, kids need to know what bus they ride to school, or how they get home.”

Wells said all of these new procedures are not something they enjoy, but they are necessary to hold in-person learning.

“We all agree that in-person school is best for most kids,” he said. “The whole point is to be able to bring kids in the building and educate them in-person, and unfortunately, that means we have to wear masks at this present time, so we very politely ask for their cooperation.

“Hopkins County Central is looking forward to seeing our students back, and we’re looking forward to this school year. We wish it were different, but we’re going to make the best of it.”

For more information about your school’s hybrid model, visit the schools’ respective social media sites. Each school has been updating regularly to keep families informed about changes.

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