Since the pandemic began in March 2020, most Holyoke students, like many other Massachusetts students, have been learning remotely. Now, nearly one year later, the Holyoke Public School district is finally able to welcome students back for in-person learning via a hybrid model. 

With the youngest learners in Pre-K and Kindergarten returning first, Zydalis Bauer recently spoke with Jaqueline Glasheen, Principal at the E.N. White School in Holyoke, about how the first couple of weeks have been going for both students and teachers as they return to the classroom. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Since last March at the start of the pandemic, the vast majority of Holyoke students, like many other school districts, have been learning remotely. Now, nearly one year later, the Holyoke Public School District has finally been able to begin welcoming students back for in-person learning through a hybrid model.

With the youngest learners and pre-K and kindergarten returning first, I recently spoke with Jacqueline Glasheen, principal at the E.N. White School in Holyoke, about how the first couple of weeks have been going for both students and teachers back in the classroom.

Principal Jaqueline Glasheen: Our schedule varies. So, for our youngest learners, pre-K and K, they are afforded the opportunity of four days a week Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and then we close and deep clean on Wednesday.

If you choose not to come in for hybrid learning, we still have the remote option. So when you go into my pre-K K classes, you will see anywhere from eight to 10 students six feet apart in the classroom, and then a large 60 inch display with 10 other friends who are Zooming in from home.

In first and second grade, the cohorts are broken up into two cohorts. So either A, you come on Monday and Tuesday; or B, you come on Thursday and Friday. So, the cohorts are a little smaller.

Again, the remote option is still there. So when I went to visit this morning, I could see friends in the classroom and then I could also see friends on the display. So, it was great to see all of that happening.

Zydalis Bauer: So with the youngest learners being back in school for a few weeks now, and the next cohort just beginning this week, how has it been going? How have the students and teachers been? How did it feel to welcome everybody back?

Principal Jaqueline Glasheen: It was amazing. It was amazing, brought tears to my eyes. Brought tears to some kid’s eyes, like they were so excited to see their teachers.

It was unlike any other first day of school, generally on the first day of school for pre-K K kids, there’s a lot of tears, separation anxiety. They don’t want to go. We didn’t see any of that or very few of that on our first day for them on February 2nd.

Kids were running in, parents were like “see ya, have a great day.” Teachers were so happy to see kids. It was really an amazing feeling. It was a positive environment and kids were ready to learn. So, it was great.

Zydalis Bauer: So, Governor Baker recently announced that he would like to see all students full time back in school by April. And just last week, the Board of Education approved a plan that would allow Education Commissioner Jeff Riley to force districts to go back to in-person learning.

What are your thoughts on that? With that just being only a month away, how realistic is it and what support and guidance would you need?

Principal Jaqueline Glasheen: So, I am in favor of students returning back to the classroom. I think it’s important our students have lost so much more than academics in this year. They’ve lost their friendships with their peers and socialization. And so I’m a big fan and want kids back.

I do think we would need some specific guidance from DESE around what protocols would be appropriate and ensure that we’re sharing that with families. Because families really want their kids to come back to school, but they really want to make sure they’re going to be safe.

Zydalis Bauer: You touched a little bit about the emotional toll that this remote learning has taken on the students. And it’s hard to believe that it’s really almost been a year since we have been remote learning.

What type of support are you offering the students? And is it possible to create as normal of an environment as possible during this time back to school for them?

Principal Jaqueline Glasheen: One specific thing is we have a social emotional learning curriculum called the Great Body Shop that we use. And I adjusted it this year where it was taught by our school adjustment counselor, Mr. Raul Gonzalez, purposely so that he would have a touch point with every single student every single week at EN White.

So, he could see the kids Zooming and be able to touch base so that they had a relationship with him. That has been super helpful. It’s amazing to me how some of our youngest learners, second first grade, were really having some difficulty with depression, anxiety, anxiety to come back to school. And we have been working together with our teachers and our parents and our guidance counselor and outside agencies that support our kids through therapy to ensure they’re getting what they need.

So, I feel like we’re in a really good place to come back to school. We have a good grip on what the kids need. But I think there’s going to be some fallout from this COVID lockdown for a year that we won’t see for six to 12 months.

Zydalis Bauer: Governor Baker also recently announced that on March 11th, teachers will be able to be eligible to receive the vaccine. So as an administrator, how important was this for you?

Principal Jaqueline Glasheen: I am dancing. I already have my first shot appointment. It’s Thursday. Teachers who were nervous wanted maybe to wait for a vaccine before returning, decided to return in the best interest of our kids. So, I applaud them for that.

But getting this news this week really was a game changer. People feel a little bit safer. They feel a little bit more protected. So we’re really excited about that.

Zydalis Bauer: As an administrator who has had to lead your staff into this new adaptation of life and learning during a pandemic, what have you learned and what are your hopes for the rest of the school year?

Principal Jaqueline Glasheen: One thing I’ve learned is that people come first before paper. Right, so my kids, my families, my staff, they come first. The accountability systems, the curriculum, the assessments, the observations, the evaluations, I can get those done.

But I have to make sure that the people that I support every day, are where they need to be to be effective in their role, whether it be parent or teacher or student. It’s been a very trying year for many, many people, and I learned to take a step back from compliance and take a step forward to building stronger relationships with families. That that really was at the forefront of most of the work, I did this year.