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Local Students Return to Classrooms After Months Away

Photo by Alan Olson – Jenny Herbak’s first grade class at Glen Dale Elementary School settles in for class Tuesday morning.

WHEELING — Both students and teachers were all smiles Tuesday when students returned to the classroom around West Virginia, some for the first time in months.

Ohio and Marshall county schools welcomed back the first half of their elementary and middle school students Tuesday. In Ohio County, those in Group B returned for in-person classes. At Woodsdale Elementary School, teachers greeted their students with music and welcome signs as they entered the building.

Woodsdale Principal Ashlea Minch said both students and staff were “super excited” to be back. Walking around the classrooms, she saw everyone focused and wearing their masks. She said there hasn’t been much issue with students wearing masks since it was mandated at the start of this school year.

“Our students are rock stars with that,” Minch said.

“We didn’t have a problem the entire time we were in session in the building back in the fall. And every single kid came in today — nobody forgot their mask. I think it’s just truly a part of their life right now, so it’s no different than any other day.”

Minch said staff would spend much of Tuesday and again Thursday determining which students were present, which were absent and which are remote students. At present, 34 of the 440 students at Woodsdale have registered to be remote students.

Families have until Friday to decide whether to enroll their children for remote learning over the next nine weeks.

Bridge Street Middle School Principal Jessica Broski-Birch said there were “a few” absent students there on Tuesday. But after these students were called, it was discovered they were just confused about what day they should come to school.

Those present appeared to be happy to be there, she added, and that included both students and teachers.

“I was a little apprehensive, but I see more smiles today than I ever anticipated,” she said. “I think it renewed our sense of purpose, and lifted our spirits to see the kids and realize why we have been doing this (remote lessons for all) over the last nine weeks. It is easy to lose sight of that when you don’t see them regularly.

“The kids are smiling. The staff is smiling. The staff seems to be off to a very good start.”

Broski-Birch said the decision was made to allow students and teachers a little extra time in homeroom on Tuesday. The first thing the students saw was a video created by her to remind them of the purposes of wearing their mask, sanitizing procedures, washing their hands and social distancing.

She also wanted to give the students and teachers some needed “decompression time” together, talking with friends and teachers, a small pick-me-up to help through a difficult time.

In Marshall County, elementary and middle school students of last names A-K returned to their classrooms for the semester Tuesday and Wednesday; the other half will attend Thursday and Friday, with custodial staff working through this evening to sanitize the facilities. High school students will continue learning remotely until Marshall County is no longer ‘red’ on the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources map.

Glen Dale Elementary Principal Kimberly Cain said she and the teachers were elated to have students back at their desks.

“We’re thrilled to have kids back,” she said. “I was doing a walkthrough of the building to see everybody smiling and happy, and the kids are happy to be back, too. We talk to them personally, ask them if they’re glad to be back, and the answer is ‘yes.'”

Ohio County Superintendent Kim Miller said she visited schools throughout the district on Tuesday to see how the day was proceeding.

“The kids look happy. The teachers look happy. The teachers are teaching. The kids are learning. I couldn’t be happier,” she said. “It felt like school.

“I talked to a bunch of kids. They were happy to be back. They missed their teachers, and they missed their friends. Hopefully, we’re in it for the long haul now.”

Parents and grandparents picking up children at Woodsdale Elementary on Tuesday indicated both they and the children in their family were conflicted about the return.

“I’m kind of nervous, but it’s OK,” said Cindy Linton. She waited for her grandson, whom she said had thoughts both ways about coming back to school in person.

“He sort of didn’t want to go back, then he started thinking about it,” she said. “I’m anxious to hear what he has to say when he gets home.”

Stacy Clever said it was a true first day of the school year for her children at the school. Her children learned remotely all of the first semester.

“It’s great,” she said as she awaited them in line outside the school.

She was blunt when asked why she chose to return her children to in-school education at this time.

“Nothing is changing,” Clever said.

Staff writer Alan Olson contributed to this report.

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