As Hopkins County schools prepare to return to the classroom later this month, many preschool parents have wondered what the new hybrid will look like for students.

Jody Sutton’s son, Avery, will enter his second year of preschool at Jesse Stuart Elementary School this fall. She said for her, there was no question about sending her child back to school.

“It’s what’s best for him,” she said. “If the masks would have come into play with Avery, because the preschoolers don’t have to wear them, I probably would have thought about it a little bit harder.”

She said her son is developmentally delayed, so sending him back to school gives Avery access to all of the school’s services.

“When I sent him last year, for the first time, I could tell a huge difference in him in just the first couple of months,” Sutton said. “We were very sad when they closed school. We understood, and we’re very cautious and aware of COVID. But for us, it’s what’s best for him. He’s going to get his therapy there. He’s going to get his socialization. It’s what he needs and more structure.”

District Director of Early Education Jennifer Luttrell said this year will be different for sure.

Typically, preschool students attend either a morning or afternoon session four days a week. This school year, they will still participate in a morning or afternoon session on Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, said Luttrell.

“This is very different for us. Traditionally we are a four-day a week program, which is Monday through Thursday with Friday being our teachers’ opportunity for planning parent contacts, screenings and meetings with families. Our Friday will become our Wednesday,” she said. “In our new hybrid plan, this will allow deep cleaning and sanitizing in our classrooms, which is going to be a good plan for us in the beginning, while COVID-19 is still haunting us.”

Using the hybrid model will reduce class sizes. Usually, preschool classes would have 20 students per two staff members. Now, the district looks at a 10 or 11 to two or three student to teacher ratio depending on the situation, said Luttrell.

Not only will class sizes be smaller, but their structure will be different, too. Typically, preschool classes allow time for free play and student choice at centers.

“They will see a reduction of center opportunities. They will also see more structured rotations of their student’s engagement in the classroom versus free choice. That is to help with social distancing and contact tracing per the recommendations of the health department,” said Luttrell. “Our students will receive experiences with math and literacy and science, dramatic play, the block center, the writing table with our tablets in the classroom, and with quiet time with books.”

Pride Elementary preschool teacher April Hibbs said they are organizing their classrooms so social distancing rules can be maintainable. Hibbs said she thinks students will be able to adapt to this new normal.

“I honestly think that they’re going to be most looking forward to being with their friends, even if that means playing with one friend at a time with social distancing rules in place,” she said. “I think that they adjust better than we sometimes do, and they’re still going to get outside time and things like that, it’s just going to look different, but I think that they’ll do fine with it.”

Another change this year is the preschool students will eat in their classrooms. Luttrell said teachers would play music and read books to their class as well. She said they’re going to make eating fun, and when weather permits, they may even eat outside.

During the day, Luttrell said students will wash their hands more than they ever had before, they’ll wash on arrival, before and after meals, after using their gross motor skills. They will also use hand sanitizer during any transitional period.

“I think all of our preschoolers will absolutely have a wonderful idea of what six feet actually is, even more so than their parents,” said Luttrell. “Because we’re going to be doing a lot of teaching about what does six feet look like.”

Although preschools don’t have to wear masks, Luttrell understands a parent’s choice to choose the remote learning option.

“We know that families are at different places, whether they want their students to be an in-person learner or a remoter learner,” she said. “We respect that. We are also offering a remote learning option for our preschool program. Our teachers are working very hard to build a developmentally-appropriate and engaging remote learning option and also have activities for those off days when they’re not at school.”

She said the hybrid and remote learners could continue learning through small group activities, read-alouds and interactions with their teachers while at home.

Each preschooler will receive a home learning tool kit, which will provide everything they need. Luttrell said it’s full of books, counting manipulatives, pencils, scissors, glue sticks, a journal to write in and help to complete their daily activities and more.

“We’re going to be working hard to facilitate and coach and support their families so learning can continue at home while they’re not at school with us,” she said.

For more information regarding preschool in the public schools during the pandemic, be sure to follow the district’s website, hopkins.kyschools.us, and the school’s Facebook page.

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