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Youngest students learn to follow social distancing, discuss smiling with a mask on

On Wednesday, Feb. 3, Colton School District began in-person learning for students in grades K-2.

The classes are divided into two cohort groups to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and help with tracking any exposures to the disease. The cohorts are divided alphabetically and attend school either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday.

Grades 3-5 have a start date of Feb. 16-19, and all classes K-5 will be in school the week of March 1.

If the metrics allow, the middle school and high school students will be phased in the beginning of March. Parents will be notified every Tuesday of the current metrics and what they mean for students and reentry plans.

PMG PHOTO: CINDY FAMA - Students in Darian Krieter's first-grade class drew masked self-portraits on their first day back in the school building.

On that first day in Darian Krieter's first-grade class, she began by talking with her students about the need to wear masks and to be respectful of distancing. The students drew face mask self-portraits as one of their first assignments and acknowledged their understanding of the mask and distancing rules.

Krieter asked the students, "How can you tell when someone is smiling at you when they are wearing a mask?"

"You can see it in their eyes," one student answered.

Krieter also noted when you smile your ears go up a little. One student tried it out and smiled under her masked while reaching for her ears and then nodded yes.

PMG PHOTO: CINDY FAMA - Nicole Weninger's class is socially distanced and ready to learn.

In Nicole Weninger's second-grade classroom, the students followed the first day of school rules written on the white board — remove supplies from backpack, set up your Chromebook, etc., and already were working on a lesson in "compare and contrast."

There are some new steps to the school day, Colton Elementary School Principal Mario Alba said. When the students arrive, a trained staff member (or more) does a visual screening looking for pale or flushed color, unusual behavior like fatigue or lethargy and cough. If any signs or symptoms are detected, the students are sent to a designated area to be screened further.

Parents are asked to make sure their child is feeling well and has no symptoms before sending them to school. The bus drivers also are trained to do a visual screen to make sure no one is feeling ill or showing any symptoms.

Another change at the elementary school is the new dropoff and pickup protocol. Parents are asked to use the middle school driveway on South Schieffer Road, drive around the middle school building and take the school service road down to the elementary school and drop off or pick up their student at the covered area in front of the gymnasium.

The school is staggering dismissal times by a few minutes in order to keep the social distancing aspect viable. Parents are required to say in their vehicle; a staff member will call the student forward and direct them to their parent's car.

"Our in-person learning students are coming back happy and curious," Alba said. "Some families have opted to continue distance learning, and we have teachers who are including the at-home students (synchronously) into the classroom setting using Google Hangout software. It helps the distance learning students feel like they belong and helps then stay in touch with the in-class students. You can hear them saying hello to each other and interacting during studies."

Alba said that all the blood, sweat and tears have been worth it to get the students back into the classrooms.

The school district has found a way to overcome the problems that could arise from trying to understand an educator's instructions through a mask. They have provided them with voice amplifiers and microphone systems for classroom teaching.

Colton High School has a designated phase-in start date of March 1, but the leadership class was back in its room having followed all safety protocols and are about to start producing a video that will show students what to expect on their first days back on campus.

District Superintendent Koreen Barreras-Brown said she is ecstatic to be able to open the doors for students, and as long as the metrics for COVID are stable, they will be welcoming students.

"Our staff, students and parents have been looking forward to this day for a long time," Barreras-Brown said. "We are ready and excited for in-person learning to begin."

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