Valley school teachers prepare to welcome students back to in-person learning next week

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Posted at 5:53 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 19:53:32-05

It may be spring break at many Valley schools, but for teachers it’s more like the end of summer, when they get their classrooms ready for the anticipated arrival of students in the fall.

“We’re ready for them, so we’re going to follow CDC [guidelines]. So the kids can be safe,” said Starlight Park Elementary Principal Dr. Felicia Durden.

For thousands of students, back to school will have a whole new meaning next week. Many of them are literally stepping foot inside a classroom for the first time in more than a year.

"It was like, 'oh my gosh, what are we going to do now?'" said teacher Donna Troy. Troy was watching the evening news when she learned Governor Ducey was ordering schools reopen after spring break.

”We’re anxious to get back. This came down from Governor Ducey and we’ll do what he asked us to do,” Troy said.

Troy has been educating children for four decades and nearly all of that time has been at Starlight Park school in the Cartwright Elementary District.

It has been a busy year for Troy, teaching English language learners remotely, mentoring teachers, and helping parents manage their children's education from home.

When school returns next week, Troy will add teaching a 4th-grade class to her list of assignments.

“We love teaching, we love engaging students, we love kids learning, we love having our important real estate around the room. That’s how we close gaps,” Troy said.

Like every school in the Cartwright Elementary District, Starlight Park lies in the middle of a COVID-19 hot zone. It was the reason why Cartwright’s governing board intended to keep its schools in remote learning.

While the number of new cases is dropping, the rates of infection are still higher than in neighboring school districts. “I don’t have fear. I just want to be well planned and prepared,” Principal Durden said.

When students return to Starlight Park, they’ll find socially distanced classrooms, mandatory mask-wearing, and lots of hand sanitizer.

Students will also notice many of their classmates won’t be there.

“The teachers are able to talk to the parents even though we are on spring break,” Principal Durden said. “So we are able to know who’s coming back because we want to be ready for them.”

Principal Durden expects half of the school’s 750 students will remain in distance learning.

“How do you manage a classroom online and in-person at the same time?” asked 2nd-grade teacher Toni Skoney. “That’s a whole new ballgame for me.”

But Skoney welcomes the challenge; it won’t get in the way of her welcoming her students back when they return from spring break.