RE1J preps for return to school with teacher days

Students back in the classroom August 26, all with devices

By Kendra Walker

A more pandemic-aware and digitally focused 2020-21 Gunnison Watershed school year will soon begin, starting next week with professional development days for teachers and the plan to have the students return to the classrooms on Wednesday, August 26.   

The teacher professional development days starting on Monday, August 17 will focus on social/emotional learning, and blended learning, a combination of both digital and in-person activities. Blended learning will remain the focal approach under all of the risk levels of the county’s Coronameter, with the exception of the Red level, that requires 100 percent remote learning.  

The blended learning approach “isn’t just a pandemic thing,” said RE1J superintendent Leslie Nichols, who explained at the August 10 school board meeting that the district had been working on incorporating various blended learning platforms prior to COVID-19. “This is a great time for us to get fully on board. It’s an exciting move to be making all at once,” she said. This includes every K-12 student being issued a laptop, a Chromebook or an iPad device the first week of school. This district is also ensuring that every employee has a device if they need one. “When you’re a part of the school district, we’re going to take care of you,” said Nichols. 

A handful of teachers who are not comfortable coming back to school have applied for special accommodations, said Nichols, and the district is sorting through those requests. However, those numbers haven’t changed the teacher need in class sections, she assured. “We’ll continue to massage and work through it. I do understand and respect everybody’s need, but on the whole our workforce is amazing and ready to have our kids back.”

As of now, the plan is to have students come back in person, despite growing concerns around the country with schools that have already gone back in session causing upticks in COVID-19 cases. 

All Gunnison Watershed students and staff will be required to wear face coverings, and adhere to regular hand washing and respiratory etiquette. 

Increased cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting practices will be put in place and the district is getting air filter machines for every room. Windows will be open when possible, and will remain open all year on buses. 

“We know when it gets cold it’s going to get tricky,” said Nichols. “But we have great heaters in our buses. The principle of moving air is what we’re shooting for.”

REJ1 school district families were given the choice to opt out of in-person learning for the upcoming school year, instead going with the district’s online only Pathways program. Nichols reported that 172 students are interested, representing about 8 percent of the student population across the district. “I was hoping for 5 percent or less, but I feel pretty good about that,” she said. “It’s pretty proportional between the communities, and across grade levels it was incredibly equal.” Nichols also shared that eight kids (six families) total have submitted their intent to home school and have dis-enrolled from the district. 

“Wow, we’ve had lots of parent communication in the past week,” said Nichols, referring to the district holding several virtual meetings to answer return-to-school questions. 

Nichols noted that Spanish interpretation was included in the meetings, “One of the highlights from my summer was that we were getting interpretations to parents,” she said. “We’re trying to get set up with a system with a hotline where families could call a Spanish-language phone number,” she said on being able to properly communicate the ever-changing regulations surrounding the pandemic.

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