‘It’s all new for them’: Harvard students return to schools for first time since last spring

Harvard junior high, elementary students return to school for in-person learning

Sunday’s snowy weather didn’t stop Harvard schools from welcoming students back into buildings Monday morning for the first time since last spring, Harvard School District 50 Superintendent Corey Tafoya said.

In a morning filled with excitement and slushy snow boots, the district brought back students in select grades at Harvard Junior High School as well as three of its elementary schools, Jefferson, Crosby and Washington, Tafoya said.

“The snow and some of the roads gave us a bit of a tough time this morning, so there were some delays but everything has gone really, really well,” Tafoya said. “I guess it was just kind of an eye-opener because it just reminds you that many of these grades ... they’ve never been in these buildings before other than picking up some supplies. Learning where to go, where to hang up your coat, it’s all new for them.”

Tafoya said he stood in the halls of Crosby Elementary School Monday morning, watching kindergarteners enter the building with eyes wide until they recognized the tops of their teachers’ faces and went running towards their classroom.

As he helped one kindergartener out of his snow boots, the student looked up at him and said, “This is a big place, teacher,” Tafoya recalled.

“I said, ‘Yes it is, but it won’t feel very big to you for too long once you get to know where you’re going,’” Tafoya said. “And he said, ‘OK.’”

Some of the students who came back for in-person learning Monday included kindergarteners at Crosby Elementary School, pre-kindergarten students at Washington Elementary School and sixth-grade students at Harvard Junior High School, Tafoya said.

The plan is for schools to bring back the next highest grade level each week until all students are able to participate in the district’s hybrid model, he said. This means that the first graders of Crosby Elementary and the seventh graders of Harvard Junior High will start in-person learning days March 1, and then second, third and eighth graders with follow suit on March 8.

Jefferson Elementary School, which houses fourth and fifth graders, brought students of both grades back into the building Monday, Principal Judy Floeter said. She said any hiccups created by the weather were quickly remedied this morning and things have been smooth sailing ever since.

The school brought about 40 students who had been “really struggling” with remote learning back into the building last week, Floeter said. This served as a sort of trial run for them, making Monday’s transition a bit easier, she said.

“It’s just a good day,” Floeter said. “We’re just so glad to see these kids, and these kids are so glad to see us. It just starts to feel like normal so quickly. We’ve done a lot to be prepared, and all of our planning has paid off.”

Teachers gave tours to fourth graders who had never been in the building before, showing them to their classrooms, she said.

“I’ve been trying to introduce myself because, of course, the fifth graders know me but the fourth graders don’t,” Floeter said.

Returning students of all grades levels will attend school in two cohorts that learn in person on Mondays and Tuesdays or on Thursdays and Fridays with all students learning remotely on Wednesdays, Tafoya said. The district will continue to offer a fully remote learning option for families who prefer to remain in that model and will allow families to switch models if desired as they move forward with the rest of the school year.

“Certainly, everyone has their different approach to their family and we feel like we’re pretty lucky to be able to accommodate a lot of different styles of what kids might need in these challenging times,” he said.

Harvard High School students will be the last ones to go back for in-person learning, Tafoya said in an interview on Feb. 17. The district will hold an orientation for ninth graders shortly before the planned March 15 return to show them around the building.

Kelli Duncan - Northwest Herald

Kelli Duncan is a reporter for the Northwest Herald covering county government as well as the communities of Huntley, Lake in the Hills, Marengo and Harvard. She has previously covered local politics, immigration and feature stories.