School year off to ‘seamless’ start at Forest Oaks Elementary

CHELSEA – A sense of normalcy returned to Forest Oaks Elementary School last week as teachers and administrators welcomed students back for the new school year.

Following the staggered start schedule for Shelby County Schools, nearly half of FOES’s students came to campus for in-person learning on Thursday, Aug. 13, followed by the other half on Friday, Aug. 14.

“It’s gone very smoothly,” FOES Principal Stevi Sims said. “There were many uncertain times during the summer and in planning, and a lot of changes that occurred. We were so anxious for school to start and curious what it would look like.”

Sims said the staggered schedule has helped staff and students ease back in to the school routine while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

“It’s just very calm not having as many students at one time,” Sims said. “It’s been very fluid. We’ve gotten right back into the swing of things.”

Sims said about 600 students are enrolled at FOES this year, compared to about 700 in previous years. Of those 600 students, about 100 are remote learners.

FOES’s virtual teachers are teaching from their classrooms, Sims said.

“They’ve missed having kids in their classrooms, but they have enjoyed the opportunity to get to know them through the computer,” she added. “Those students are gaining more technology skills through virtual learning.”

Sims said the Shelby County Schools technology department has been especially helpful in making sure teachers and students have everything they need for remote learning.

Sims commended her traditional classroom teachers for their commitment to following all health and safety guidelines throughout the day.

“They have worked diligently in ensuring the students’ safety,” Sims said. “They’re sanitizing every day, having students wash their hands and maintaining alphabetical order in the line. They have put a lot of thought into seating charts and making sure we’re aware of where students are at all times.”

Morning drop-offs and afternoon pickups have gone smoothly, too, according to Sims, who said even the kindergarten students who were new to the school handled the process with no tears.

“The kids have been excited, and we have been ecstatic to see their little faces,” she said. “We’re excited to start the first week of the first nine weeks and to continue having the seamless days we’ve had thus far.”

Sims said her staff spent much time over the summer planning for students to return.

“Truly, Forest Oaks has such a strong family unit,” Sims said. “The teamwork here is just incredible. Everybody pitched in and was willing to meet virtually this summer to talk through plans. We’ve always had that family feel here, and it’s truly been exemplified during these times.”

Sims recognized the FOES PTO for providing picnic tables, cleaning supplies and breakfast for faculty and staff on the first day of school, along with the Chelsea community for its outpouring of support and encouragement.

“The kids are the reason we’re here, and we couldn’t do it without each other and without the support of the community,” Sims said.