For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alexander Valley School (AVS) welcomed back its students to in-person learning on March 29.

On the first and second day back to school AVS teachers and Principal/Superintendent Matt Reno stood out front the school to welcome students and take them through the new drop off protocols, which include staggered arrivals, temperature checks and hand sanitizer use.

As cars pulled up at the K-6 school to drop off their students, teachers waved and the open air halls of the small campus were once again filled with the sound of children.

“It is a very exciting time. It’s been just over a year when we went into our pandemic learning so it’s a long time coming,” Reno said.

Students are attending school a full five days a week and arrive and depart school at different times.

“Upon entering the school and exiting the school we’ve staggered three different start times each about 15 minutes apart. 8:15 a.m. to approximately 2:45 p.m. is our school day — fortunately for us we’ve been able to continue to keep with our instructional minutes that we’ve maintained in previous years,” Reno said.

He said students even still have access to enrichment classes such as Spanish, garden, art, music and life science. Instead of students moving from different classes, enrichment teachers come to each cohort class in order to do hands-on learning.

“We’ve been able to maintain our core schedule and our core number of days simply because we have the bandwidth to do so and we are a smaller school with an average of 16 students per class and now with the three-foot social distancing, it allows us to be able to have everybody back,” Reno said.

The first instructional block of the day is from 8:45 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. Students then get a 20-minute recess until 10:10 a.m. and they have another instructional block from 10:10 to 11:50 a.m.

Lunch is until 12:30 p.m. and cohorts have specific designated areas where they eat and play. The last instructional block is from 12:30 to 2:45 p.m.

“We’re doing a lot of listening now. These students have been in a pandemic for a year and teachers have been in pandemic teaching mode and so our first and foremost goal is to reconnect students and what we noticed on the first day was just an overwhelming flow of socialization that students were having with each other,” Reno said.

To help facilitate this and listen to kids as they get used to attending school once again, classes will often have an outdoor discussion time.

On Tuesday morning, March 30, one class was participating in one of these discussion sessions and the discussion prompt was what makes you happy.

While several students had unique answers, many said they were happy just to be back at school.

“It’s been really soul enriching for us too, as a staff, to be able to see that in action and for us to engage with each other through our students,” Reno said. “Everybody I know in our team has got a little skip in their step and they’re happy to see our kids back.”

Reno said 98.2% of AVS students are back to in-person learning and only a few are still doing distance learning.

“A very small percentage remain in distance learning and so we’re creating a platform for them to continue to learn and access our curriculum through that with some live check-ins with our teachers as well as daily communication with packets and online learning,” Reno said.

In terms of staff vaccinations, Reno said a lot of the school staff has already been fully vaccinated through the Sonoma County Office of Education. Staff who chose to get vaccinated received their second dose about two and a half weeks ago.

He said it wasn’t a requirement for staff to come back.

“It does give our staff, I think, a sense of relief knowing that they’re going to feel like they’re going to be as safe as they can possibly be,” Reno said.

In terms of other mitigation measures, the campus does look a bit different with yellow tape along hallways marking safe student travel lanes, white cougar paw prints (the school’s mascot is the cougar) printed on the pavement in front of the campus denoting where students need to stand, maps of designated student ingress and egress and lunch areas for certain cohorts, health check in stations, modified playground zones and filters in classrooms along with Plexiglass.

“We’ve been in the mindset of really looking at logistics because so much of this has to flow well and everybody has a lens in which they see things, so it’s been really important for our team to be collaborating throughout this entire process,” Reno said.

To view all of the school’s protocols and their COVID Safety Plan, visit: http://alexandervalleyusd.org/cpp-guidance-checklist-info/, or view their “welcome back” video at, http://alexandervalleyusd.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/zoom_0.mp4.

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