Leland and Gray students go back to school

Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 6:14 PM EST
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TOWNSHEND, Vt. (WCAX) - Getting kids back in school remains a top priority for educators across our region, but recent numbers from the Vermont Agency of Education show only about a third of students are learning in-person, 48% are going to school part-time, and 19% remain fully remote. Adam Sullivan visited a Windham County school that just reopened to see how they’re doing.

Teachers at Leland and Gray at Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School in Townshend are back at the front of the room and students have pens and pencils in hand, giving their laptops a break.

Until this week, the 6th through 12th-grade school had been fully remote since the pandemic first hit last March. “Yeah, it’s kind of funny because usually senioritis is hitting, but I want to be in the building as much as I can,” said senior Matthew Emerson.

“I only have so much time left here that I want to be here as much as I can and enjoy it and make it the best and learn the most,” said Ansley Henderson, a junior.

The 6th graders are back four-days-a-week. Seventh through 12th-grade students have been split into two groups and alternate days. But no matter the grade, the students say in-person education is a lot more fun than it used to be. “My physics class is hard to learn physics remotely not being able to do labs and stuff,” Emerson said.

Educators worry about the social implications as well. “A lot of these kids live in very rural isolated areas so they have been isolated in their homes. So, the impact on that, we don’t know long term what that is,” said Leland and Gray Principal Bob Thibault.

Like many aging schools across Vermont, Leland and Gray had issues with its air filtration system. The three elementary schools in the district were the first to get the needed repairs before students could safely return. A $200,000 grant through the CARES Act covered the costs, but some parts of the school including the gym, music room, and cafeteria, remain off-limits. “The building is 50-plus years old, so as they have done the repairs to get us caught up, what we have discovered is that there are certain places that just can’t meet that standard,” Thibault said.

The hallways are a lot quieter than normal with only half the student body on campus at one time. Educators say the hybrid model is not likely to change simply because of space. “Distancing, keeping them six-feet apart -- the desks are six feet apart, so that helps. But the hallways -- a whole other story trying to manage that, so that is probably the biggest challenge,” Thibault said.

It’s a challenge the students say they are up for. “Even though most of my friends aren’t in the same cohort, it is just great to see people,” Henderson said.

The state has set a goal to get all students in Vermont back in the classroom by April and schools will be assessing the impact that remote learning had on education. But ironically, in order to do that assessment, the kids need to be back in school.

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