“We are excited about the start of school, despite the circumstances,” said Thatcher Brook Primary School (TBPS) principal Denise Goodnow, speaking on behalf of staff at the Waterbury school. “We are at our very best when we have students for in-person learning.”
With school starting amidst a global pandemic, Goodnow knows the year will bring new, never before seen challenges. For instance, teachers must teach with masks on, students must stay socially distanced from one another, and school material must be taught effectively both in-person and at home, synchronously and asynchronously.
“I know many families are challenged by our four to one hybrid start in terms of day care. I am an educator, not a scientist, but I think it makes sense to start slow and build on our success,” said Goodnow.
From a principal’s perspective, the planning process for this hybrid model obliterated any sense of summer vacation. “I typically take two to four weeks off in the summer to spend time with my sons, daughters-in law and two little grandsons but that didn't happen this summer due to planning for the reopening of school,” said Goodnow, adding that FaceTime hasn't been an adequate substitute for her grandsons’ hugs.
PLANNING SINCE JUNE
Goodnow and her staff have been planning for the reopening of school since June. “The logistics of opening school, under the guidelines put forth by the AOE, are massive,” she said. “Something as simple as drop off in the morning and greeting students as they get out of their parent's car, now involves a temperature check and asking screening questions before they exit the car.”
With students being screened one at time during drop off, Goodnow worries that traffic could back up to the bridge and beyond. TBPS has even recruited Waterbury’s resident VSP officer, Trooper Lewia, to lend a hand with traffic control for the first few weeks of school.
“Another logistical challenge is feeding all students that will be getting school breakfast and lunch, which is now free to all,” said Goodnow, who explained that typically students eat lunch in the cafeteria where they can refuel and relax with peers. However, this year TBPS will deliver breakfasts and lunches to each classroom on a very tight schedule.
But the school lunch schedule is not Goodnow’s biggest concern. “My biggest concern is that our staff and students stay healthy this year. I hope that our school community and the surrounding community can continue to protect themselves and others by wearing masks which will in turn support us continuing to add in-person school days to our schedule,” said Goodnow. “If we can all model what we need our children to do at school: wear masks, physically distance and wash hands frequently, that will put us in a good place.”
For parents who are still nervous about sending their children to school this year, Goodnow has advice. She explained that her oldest grandson started preK this past week in Washington, DC. “As his grandmother I have many concerns, as I am sure our TBPS parents do. It is understandable that parents might be nervous or anxious to send their children to school,” she said. “I think as adults we have to be open and honest with our children, as much as is developmentally possible and tell them how we feel, because they likely have similar feelings.”
It also helps to explain to children that, because TBPS is prioritizing students’ health and well-being, many things will be different this year, she explained. “Some obvious examples are the health screenings at the point of entry, wearing masks, desks in classrooms that used to have tables, walking 6-feet apart when entering the building and going out to recess and not going to the cafeteria for lunch or the gym for PE to name a few,” said Goodnow.
Goodnow was a classroom teacher for 11 years before deciding she wanted to pursue a second master's degree in educational administration. In 2006, she was offered a job as principal at Bingham Memorial School in Cornwall outside Middlebury. “I decided it was time to begin a new adventure in my home state of Vermont,” she told The Valley Reporter. From there she spent seven years in Cornwall honing her principal skills, and in 2013, decided it was time to move on to a bigger school. “So, as I start my eighth year, one that will no doubt be the most memorable, I am reminded of the primary reason I decided to become a principal and that is simply to make a difference.”