ELWOOD — After more than four months at home after school buildings throughout the state closed down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Allison Johnson walked into Elwood Jr.-Sr. High School on Thursday to start the first day of her senior year.
“I feel pretty good about it. I think it’s running a lot smoother than I thought it would be. It’s a little different with the social distancing, but it’s not too bad,” she said. “Nothing was too different except the lunch line. It was just more spread out.”
Johnson was one of 75% of Elwood students who opted to return to class for the start of the 2020-21 school year.
Elwood was the first of the schools and districts serving Madison County and surrounding areas to start the school year, a rolling process that continues through Aug. 13 when Frankton-Lapel Community Schools are scheduled to be the last to resume instruction. It also was the first district in the area to reopen to in-person classes amid the pandemic.
District officials divulged earlier this week that an unidentified staff member had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. However, it’s unknown to which building the staff member is assigned.
Even so, Johnson, who splits her school day in the Business, Technology and Internship program at Hinds Career Center, said she felt everything possible was being done to keep her and the other students safe.
She looks forward to participating in the activities the Class of 2020 missed out on, such as prom.
“I’m just looking forward to it being a little more normal than it’s been with all the COVID going on,” she said.
Troy Friedersdorf, the new principal at Elwood’s high school, said the hard work that helped make the first day of school run smoothly was done over the past couple of months. That includes training teachers to deliver their lessons for both in-person and virtual students, obtaining adequate personal protective equipment, such as masks, and placing social distancing stickers on floors as reminders.
“The challenges were in getting prepared for today. Once we got rolling this morning and the kids have come in, all the preparation has really paid off,” he said. “There has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes by a lot of our staff.”
The biggest challenge, Friedersdorf said, was to arrange for social distancing in light of the large number of students who returned for in-person classes. The more students who opt to continue their educations virtually, the easier it is to spread out those who come into the buildings.
“We still have more kids and staff in the building than you can properly socially distance,” he said.
Like Johnson, Friedersdorf is keeping his fingers crossed that students can participate in the classes, sports and social and extracurricular activities of their choice for the remainder of the school year.
“We are planning and hopeful to make this as normal a school year as we can under the circumstances,” he said.
“We want to provide our kids with as many opportunities as we can,” he said.
Aside from the unusual circumstances presented by the pandemic, the opening of schools was relatively uneventful, Elwood Superintendent Joe Brown reported.
“Actually, it’ going great, so far,” he said.