Pelham City Schools welcome students back to campus

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer 

PELHAM — It was all about getting to that first day. On Wednesday, Aug. 19, Pelham City Schools welcomed students back to campus to kick off the 2020-21 school year.

Perhaps the emotional aspect of the day’s significance was best expressed through a saying on a bulletin board that read, “We can’t mask how excited we are to (see) you back!” with each letter of the word “mask” written on actual face masks.

The first group of students were on campus at Pelham City Schools on Wednesday, Aug. 19. (Contributed / Nicole Knight)

“Our folks have done a great job of preparing and planning for this day. So far, the day has gone very smoothly,” said Pelham City Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Coefield. “The students came in understanding routines were going to be different and, as always, they rise to the expectations.”

Pelham began its school year with the “Green Group” comprising students with last names beginning with A-L on Wednesday, continuing with the “Gold Group,” or those with last names beginning with M-Z, on Thursday. The Green and Gold groups include students who chose the traditional learning option, while those who chose the virtual learning option are learning from home.

“I think the staggered schedule is really helping by giving our teachers smaller groups of students to establish new school routines, make connections, and introduce the online learning and technology tools they’ll be using this year,” Coefield said.

Lisa Baxter, principal at Pelham Ridge Elementary, said that despite some anxiety about the morning car line, the procedure went easily as did bus drop-offs. Students ate meals in their classrooms to reduce interaction with large groups, and masks were a non-issue.

“It’s really gone surprisingly well. The planning really helped,” Baxter said. “Every child got out of the car or off the bus with a mask on—the children are even doing better than the adults.”

Decals in the gym, lunchroom and hallways helped encourage social distancing, while signage throughout the building reminded students of proper hand washing techniques and other health information.

Baxter, who is in her second year as a principal and first year at Pelham Ridge, estimated the school’s attendance Wednesday accounted for about one third of enrollment.

“The kids are so excited to be back at school, and the teachers are too,” she said. “You can’t see under their masks that they are smiling, but you can see it in their eyes.”

Principal Chase Holden of Pelham Oaks Elementary said the mindset of the new school year is obviously different due to COVID-19, but the goals are the same.

“Overall, the most important thing is getting the students back into the building,” he said. “It’s good to see the students and it’s good to see their faces, even though they had masks.”

Back at Pelham Ridge, teachers like Kelly Whitman, who is in her 22nd year, had only good things to say about Wednesday.

“I think it was wonderful. The district has taken a lot of precautions to protect the students and teachers,” Whitman said. “We just worked through everything. They were just real excited and happy to see each other.”

She said the staggered schedule seems to be making the COVID-19 precautions manageable, due to reduced numbers in her classroom. She is using Google Classroom to send out virtual plans to her students on the days they are not physically present.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to keep them safe,” Whitman said.