Finally, the feeling of “normalcy” is back in schools as new classes begin in the Ozarks
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - We thought we might never see things return to normal again, and there’s still the chance it may return with a vengeance.
But for now, the start of the 2022-23 school year is the first true feeling of “normalcy” Ozarks school districts have had since 2019, before our world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Springfield, the state’s largest school district, and many other schools across the Ozarks held their first classes on Monday. As you walked around schools like Hickory Hills (K-8th grade) with its 800 students, you noticed very few protocols in place during the pandemic.
No mask requirements, no dividing students into smaller groups for contact-tracing purposes, no social distancing signs, no off-limits water fountains, no buildings closed-off to visitors, no staggered schedules where students come to school on different days and learn virtually from home on other days.
You can understand why two years of education in an unsettled and bizarre world took its toll on both students and staff and why it was a significant burden off their shoulders to come to school this year with a sense that the world was back on its axis again.
“It’s exciting,” proclaimed Hickory Hills Principal Becky Ash. “It’s that joy that we’re finally back to where we were a couple of years ago.”
“The morale seems to be a lot higher,” added Caitlyn Mercado, a liaison with Hickory Hills who works with students dealing with attendance, personal or academic problems. “Just getting to see smiling faces again and kids getting back to what would seem normal.”
Things were certainly not normal the past two years.
Alternative Methods of Instruction was the term used to describe educational approaches used during the pandemic, like having students work from home or come to school in person on alternating days, with some coming on Mondays and Wednesdays and others attending on Tuesdays-and-Thursdays.
“I noticed a huge change with students who were virtually learning,” Mercado said. “There were problems like a lack of motivation or a struggle with mental health and academics just because they were isolated.”
There were mandatory masks, water fountains with plastic coverings over the spout, school supply plastic containers assigned to each student, and signs everywhere reminding students and faculty to remain socially distanced.
But today, you’ll notice all of those protocols are gone. There are still a few students wearing masks, but that’s optional. And the only actual leftover from the pandemic days is hand sanitizer bottles throughout the building.
Also gone is the mandate that visitors aren’t allowed in the school.
“Parents are so thankful that they get to come back into the building and be a part of their children’s education,” Ash said.
Students are also freer to move about. During the pandemic, many schools divided each classroom into “pods” of smaller groups separated from the others so that if there were a COVID-19 illness, it would be easier to find out who had been in close contact with the sick student.
“It’s nice to see them be able to utilize lockers again, so they don’t have to carry everything around,” Mercado said. “And telling them they could only be with this one group, that being gone is a huge relief.”
Over the last two years, there has been a significant turnover in teachers, and the stress on everyone has been noticeable.
But through it all, some valuable lessons have been learned.
“Overall, we’re a lot more energized,” Mercado said. “We can persevere through anything.”
“We had to be flexible, and we had to adapt,” Ash said of the pandemic challenges. “And I think those are life skills that will carry with our kids for years to come.”
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