After reopening classrooms for kindergarten through second grades the previous week, Peoria Unified School District has welcomed back the rest of its students.
Included in the reopening were high schools in Peoria and Glendale.
“We know there are people who are apprehensive about what school is going to look and feel like, and we have been sharing our mitigation procedures and safety plans in order to begin school in a positive and safe environment for our students and staff,” Superintendent Dr. Jason Reynolds said.
Some of the safety procedures Peoria students and staff have to follow include wearing masks all day, physical distancing when possible and giving families a continued virtual learning option.
There are families who decided to keep their students virtual for the rest of the semester, district officials said.
“We have students who are still online who are looking for ways to connect with their school and friends, which is also important to us,” Reynolds said. “We want our students, parents and staff to feel supported and to reach out to us if they have concerns.”
Students who are attending in-person class notice the absence of their peers. Victoria Sutton, a Centennial High School senior, said parts of the school felt like a “ghost town” with a “more than half”-empty parking lot.
“I’m a senior this year and have spent my past three years in high school greeted by a parking lot full of cars. This was not the case on the first day,” Sutton said. “It seems like a privilege to attend school now, since we know that about one-third of Centennial’s students aren’t joining us this semester.”
While some students are at home, the students back in person are experiencing school in a different way because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our hallways are now only one-way, which increases the amount of traffic in the two-way sections of the school,” Sutton said. “I understand what they were trying to accomplish with social distancing, but it seems a little counterproductive to move people from one area and cram them into another.”
Students are also experiencing changes in how clubs and organizations operate in an attempt to continue involvement for all students regardless of how they are learning this semester.
“Lots of clubs have changed their meeting days and now operate both online and in person. I am president of both NHS (National Honor Society) and Math Society, and it’s been a challenge recruiting new members and keeping current ones engaged,” Sutton said. “Although, I don’t think this has made school spirit go down. If anything, it’s made it improve.”
Students have created their “own families” in their clubs, learning to “embrace” the relationships that they make, Sutton said.
While students and staff learn to adjust to the way they attend schools in Peoria, sustaining opening is the next step for the district.
“All of this work that has been done in preparation of reopening our schools does not stop now,” Reynolds said. “We need to remain focused on the physical and emotional well-being of our community and continue to support our students and staff.”