Some 8,700 Westminster students returned to the classroom Aug. 20, some online and most in person. “It’s been a great day, and we’ve been all over the district,” Dr. Pam Swanson, …
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Some 8,700 Westminster students returned to the classroom Aug. 20, some online and most in person.
“It’s been a great day, and we’ve been all over the district,” Dr. Pam Swanson, superintendent for Westminster Public Schools said.
The district reopened schools for the year for the first time since classes shut down in March due to COVID-19 concerns. Swanson said extra administrative staff has been on-hand at every school. She started her morning at Westminster Academy for International Studies before moving on to Westminster High School.
“And then, this afternoon, we’ll do it all in reverse,” she said.
Most of the students, at least 6,000 of the district’s roughly 8,700 enrollment returned to actual classrooms with their peers.
“We have layers and layers of safety protocols we’ve been implementing,” Swanson said. “I was so impressed this morning. We had the parents dropping their kids off and the kids were in masks and the staff were in masks and the staff were complementing the kids, you know ‘Cool mask!’ So, there were a lot of smiles behind those masks.”
Now, the in-school effort turns to keeping the kids safe and socially distanced while they are in the school.
“We call it the Three Ws for WPS,” Swanson said. “Wear a mask, Wash your hands and Watch your distance.”
Class sizes are small, no higher than 25 students per classroom — with most being just under that.
“We have kids in the same class with each other all day, and we are trying to limit the interactions have with other classes or cohorts,” she said. “For the most part, we are trying to bring the adults to the kids, as a opposed to the kids coming to the adults as much as possible.”
Swanson said some students will have to go to special rooms for lessons — for science labs or music classes —but those rooms are cleaned carefully between classes.
“We have infrared thermometers and everyone is getting checked,” she said. “Everybody is masked and we are encouraging parents to bring their kids to school. We can only have about 20 percent of our capacity on the buses and we are running some shuttles to the elementary kids and the high schools, students can get RTD passes. And we are telling everybody, if they are sick, they need to stay home.”
The district has already had to adjust when an unnamed middle school teacher in the Josephine Hodgkins Leadership Academy tested positive for COVID-19. The test was performed on Aug. 19 and results were returned two days later, with results being automatically shared with the district.
The students who had direct contact with the teacher on opening day were shifted to the district’s remote learning platform for a 14-day quarantine. Hodgkins remains open for most of the students and no other schools were affected.
An estimated 2,000 opted for online learning in the district’s new Virtual Academy platform. That’s a new offering for Westminster students that is different from the remote learning tools the district used last spring, after COVID quarantines closed the schools.
“It’s really for families that are not quite ready to come back,” Swanson said. “But I really see this virtual platform staying with us, even after the COVID situation. I think some kids found their learning platform where they were really able to thrive. So we want to make that available going forward.”
The Virtual Academy includes a mix of live lectures and online work and saved lessons and projects students can do on their own time.
“These are opportunities where a kid can log in at any time to do certain things, but other times they might be with their teachers or classmates as a whole group,” Swanson said.
If COVID-19 spikes again in Colorado, in Westminster or if individual schools suffer new spikes of the disease, Swanson said the district is prepared with a different remote learning platform for the in-person students.
“If at any time we have to quarantine a class, a cohort or a school, we will flip immediately to remote learning for those students,” she said. “That is what did in the spring.”
WPS began distributing Chromebooks to students March 13 at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak and quarantines in Colorado. That was just a week before the district was scheduled to begin Spring Break and when students returned it was their home computers and online lessons.
Westminster Public Schools is the first Metro North school district to return for 2020 classes. Adams 12 Five Star and Mapelton districts are scheduled to reopen to in-person learning Aug. 27. District 27J, which includes portions of Thornton, has been slowly bringing students back and plans to have all students back by Sept 1.
Adams 12 has adopted a fully-remote learning plan. Both Mapelton and 27-J are offering a mix of in-person and remote learning options, like Westminster Public Schools.
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