Peoria Unified School District

Peoria Unified School District reopened all classrooms. But it’s hardly school as usual, as all students and staff are required to wear masks, with other safety measures.

Last week, teacher Caitlin Summers’ kindergarten students at Desert Valley Elementary School learned a new phrase:

“Nose check!”’

That was a shortcut to remind kids about a new thing: wearing masks to school.

“If I can see their nose, they have to pull the mask up,” Summers said.

Then again, she added, for kindergarten kids, everything is new.

But, for the first- and second-graders in the Peoria Unified School District who recently returned to classrooms for the first time in nearly six months, and for other students who returned Sept. 28, wearing masks is a different school look.

They will also see hand sanitizer dispensers around their schools and other safety measures.

“It was awesome to welcome our third through 12th-grade students who have chosen classroom instruction,” said PUSD Superintendent Dr. Jason Reynolds. “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.”

The COVID-19 pandemic led Gov. Doug Ducey to close Arizona schools in March. In recent months, he allowed districts discretion to return when they felt it was safe.

While PUSD reopened classrooms, “We also have students who are still online who are looking for ways to connect with their school and friends,” Reynolds noted. “We want our students, parents and staff to feel supported and to reach out to us if they have concerns.”

Other districts are taking a slower approach. Glendale Elementary and Glendale Union High school districts plan an Oct. 19 classrooms reopening.

Deer Valley School Unified District has a staggered rollout over three weeks.

So most teachers in Glendale and Peoria will have to wait to see what  Summers is seeing: students off the computer screen—and in the classroom.

“We came back and the calendars were still stuck on March,” she said. “It’s like time just stopped.”

What were her young students eager to discuss?

“Being in kindergarten, they want to talk about everything,” she said. “It’s their first time into the real world. 

“They think we always wear masks to school.”

While starting the day with a face covering hasn’t been a problem, there has been frequent slippage.

“The biggest thing is making sure the masks fit,” Summers said.

The kindergarten teacher said that, while it had its limitations, remote teaching was a success.

“I’ve loved doing online (teaching). It’s like working from a bird’s-eye view. I knew more about (the students) than I would have if they were coming into classrooms,” she said of the month-plus of online learning.

“There were no distractions, just them on the computer looking at me.”

Now that the little desks are filled, new challenges arise. Like students bringing their own supplies, and not passing them around.

“Typically, this is when you teach (students) to share with friends—but not now,” Summers said.

As she has been teaching kindergarten for three years, one question is hardly new to Summers: Why?

“Some students don’t understand why we’re wearing masks,” the Glendale teacher said.

“When they say, ‘I don’t want to wear a mask,’ I say, ‘Look at all your friends, they’re all wearing masks.

“‘All your other friends have their noses covered.’”