It was a smooth 1st day back to full-time, in-person learning at Steamboat elementary schools |

It was a smooth 1st day back to full-time, in-person learning at Steamboat elementary schools

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There were full classes of kindergarten through second-grade students at Steamboat Springs elementary schools for the first time in nearly a year Monday as the districts started phasing students back into full-time, in-person learning.

“It kind of felt like the first day of school on Feb. 22,” said Soda Creek Elementary School Principal Amy Bohmer. “No matter how long you teach, you’re always pretty anxious about the first day of school, so that is kind of how it felt today.”

Monday at Strawberry Park Elementary School also went well, giving Principal Celine Wicks confidence as the Steamboat Springs School District continues to move forward with its phased implementation plan.

Overall, the principals said the return to the classroom was smooth, and they said teachers are telling them the same thing. While there are a few things that need to be ironed out in the coming weeks, Bohmer said some third- through fifth-grade teachers came to see how things were going with a full classroom, hoping to glean some insight for when their students return in two weeks.

Bohmer said many of her teachers led activities to help students get to know each other because many of them have not been able to get to know all of their classmates in the hybrid model.

A worry for many parents and members of the Steamboat Springs School Board centered on how to create distance between students when everyone was back in the classroom full time. To make room, teachers often removed less frequently used furniture to give students more space to spread out.

Many classrooms have markers on the rugs so that students sit appropriately distanced from one another, and of course, students are wearing masks.

“I know my (third- through fifth-grade) teachers are wandering down to check it out to see what is working in the different classrooms, so that they can do the same when their kids come,” Bohmer said.

One potential trouble spot during the day was lunchtime. In the hybrid model, students ate lunch in the classroom. Now, Bohmer said, half the class is still eating in the classroom while the other half is going to the cafeteria.

“If you see our lunchroom, it is way spread out, and we put dividers between each group so each classroom is divided and separated,” she said.

There are zones on the playground meant to keep different classes separate, though the schools have had to make changes to accommodate more students in each zone. They also made some changes to the zones because “some of the zones just aren’t as much fun,” Bohmer said.

Many of these measures have been in the works since the conversation about bringing students back to school full time started in January.

Much of the preparation for Monday took place Feb. 12 when school was not in session so that teachers could get their vaccinations. Wicks said she is excited to have all the students back in the classroom and believes teachers getting the first dose of the vaccine was a factor in the confidence around bringing students back.

“I am sure teachers will feel even better after March 5 when they get their second shot,” Wicks said.

The district’s plan calls for third- through fifth-grade students to return full time March 8. There is not a timeline for bringing middle and high school students back at this point, but the district is working with public health officials to determine when their return would be appropriate.

About 22 students at Steamboat Springs High School are in quarantine until March 2 because they were close contact with a positive COVID-19 case, according to an email sent to parents Monday.

Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County chief medical officer, said while he feels it is important to get middle and high school students back to school every day, it is more challenging than with elementary school students.

“The middle school and the high school have always had more of a connection with the disease prevalence in the community,” he said.

While each school district is different and Steamboat Springs is the biggest district in the county, Harrington said other schools have brought older students back with some success, and they can serve as a road map for the district. Routt County’s cases are looking better too, though it is too early to know if there will be any increase in cases because of last week’s Blues Break.

“I would hope that if things go well with the elementary school, with the vaccinations of teachers and with the decreasing case counts in our community, this will give everybody involved the confidence to move forward with in-person learning at the middle school and, ultimately, at the high school as well,” Harrington said.

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