Noises from Perry Hill Elementary School on Wednesday traveled through the vents shared by offices for central district staff, breaking up the quietness employees had grown accustomed to since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered schools in March.
“I forgot how loud it got with the kids,” said Lizette Downey, spokeswoman for Northwest Allen County Schools.
Similarly, across town in Southwest Allen County Schools, Superintendent Phil Downs walked by the elementary school playground near his office during recess. Students were as loud and as boisterous as ever.
“I've missed that sound,” Downs said.
Wednesday marked the first day of school for the districts.
East Allen County Schools began the 2020-21 academic year Monday, and Fort Wayne Community Schools begins classes today.
All of the districts are implementing changes to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Some schools are putting a creative twist on reminding students about the necessary health precautions. Maple Creek Middle School in NACS created signs encouraging students to “Stay One Mr. Toler Apart,” a nod to Principal Bill Toler's height. At Huntertown Elementary School, also in NACS, employees decorated a hand sanitizer station with a picture of book character Pete the Cat and the caption, “Pete's powerful germ-busting juice.”
Downs started his day at the SACS transportation building at 5:30 a.m. and was there as school buses began to leave – a normalcy he welcomed.
“It was so good to have an event or an experience that was usual and normal,” he said, chuckling. “It was really, really great to see that.”
Downs spent much of his day around students, getting to most of SACS' nine schools and ensuring he carried on a first-day-of-school tradition at Covington Elementary School.
The superintendent noticed traffic tie-ups during morning drop-off – a phenomenon also experienced at NACS – and opportunities for adjustments within the schools as educators adapt to teaching during a pandemic.
“There's going to be fine-tuning, I think, for the first couple of weeks,” Downs said.
About 20% of SACS students at every grade level opted for remote learning, Downs said, but their absence in physical classrooms wasn't always noticeable.
“In some rooms yes, in some rooms no,” he said.
At NACS, 13.6% of students opted for remote learning, the district said last week.
By offering remote learning, NACS could give families peace of mind given while creating more elbow room in classrooms, Superintendent Chris Himsel said in a video the district posted Wednesday morning on Facebook.
“And regardless of whether they're on-site or they're remote learning,” Himsel said, “our commitment remains the same to develop the talent and nurture the creativity of every one of our learners that we're blessed to serve.”