Back in class: Manchester, Essex schoolchildren return full time

Michael Cronin, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.
·3 min read

Apr. 1—Manchester Essex Regional School District Superintendent Pam Beaudoin reports the towns' elementary schoolchildren had a "smooth transition" back into full-time, in-person learning.

"The principals and staff have worked tirelessly to ensure a very smooth transition and it is wonderful to see life returning to campus," she wrote in an email to the Times. "I think everyone in the community is excited to be getting back to our typical routines."

The district officially ended its "hybrid learning model" for Essex and Manchester Memorial Elementary schools on March 23. Since November, the schoolchildren had split their time between online courses and in-person learning. Two cohorts of children operated on alternating schedules, allowing the schools to remain open at half capacity.

"We have had extensive mitigation efforts in place since the transition to hybrid in the fall," Beaudoin said. "They include daily sanitation, rigorous hygiene and handwashing, required use of masks/face coverings, physical distancing, reducing interaction between groups, encouraging students and staff to stay home when sick, MedBot daily health attestation, and contact tracing."

The first two months of this school year were remote-only learning. Now, 99% of elementary pupils have returned to school full-time after nearly seven months of waiting.

"Our biggest challenge has been increased vehicle traffic at drop-off and pickup along with traffic in the hallways at certain times of the day," Manchester Memorial Elementary School Principal John Willis said Wednesday. "The staff and I have been creative with re-arranging traffic patterns when students travel in the building and things are going much smoother with these adjustments. ... All in all, the transition has been very smooth and a positive step in the right direction for our students."

Likewise, Essex Elementary Principal Jennifer Roberts said school staff have been active in ensuring all students remain socially distant.

"We have seen increased traffic flow snags within the building but have been able to work those out with some creative problem solving," she said via email. "We are really starting to take advantage of the nice weather and you will frequently see classes out on the lawn taking snack breaks for having class discussions.

"We have not really changed any of our safety protocols because we have been adapting over time. Students have done a great job following all of our mitigation efforts. ... The staff has been amazing. They are literally all hands on deck for whatever is needed. I have never been more proud of our staff and our students. "

The next challenge for district staff is to prepare Manchester Essex Middle and High School for a full reopening on Monday, April 12.

"The Middle High School has different organizational challenges," wrote Beaudoin, "but Principals (Joanne) Maino and (Patricia) Puglisi have a well-developed plan in place for students to return to full in-person learning on April 12."

In addition, the district has partnered with Ginkgo Bioworks for weekly COVID-19 tests for students and staff. Tests are being paid for through the state's Authorized Pooled Testing program for schools. As of Wednesday, Beaudoin said there are no current COVID-19 cases among pupils or staff at either elementary school.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.