Greystone Elementary welcomes students back on first day

HOOVER — Tuesday, Aug. 10 marked the first day of classes for Greystone Elementary School, which for many students meant returning to in-person learning for the first time in over a year.

Principal Stacey Stocks reigned in her 18th year as an educator by greeting students and parents and described the overall day as a joyous occasion and a time for students to reunite with friends and meet teachers.

“Overall, we just had a really great day. There were a few that were maybe a little bit nervous, but all it took was a smile and the holding of their hand to ease their mind, but we could tell our kids had missed school all summer,” Stocks said.

Stocks attributed much of the day’s success to months of preparation and said that her faculty and staff had regularly met over the summer in order to develop lesson plans, clean and sanitize classrooms and finalize class roasters.

“We work all summer to get ready for back to school, and we make sure our teachers are prepared and know what is expected of them, and then we just hit the ground running,” Stocks said.

Part of that preparation also included gearing up for in-person instruction. Students are attending both in-person and virtual classes this week.

However, Hoover City Schools has enacted a mask mandate for the first 30 days of the fall semester amid an ongoing case surge of the virus. The school district is also providing a virtual curriculum option for students.

“The district did just open up a virtual option for elementary students because of the COVID situation, and we felt like parents were wanting that option,” she said. “For the most part, I think our kids like being in school and the parents like them being here. They know that that’s where they learn best, but I understand there are some extenuating circumstances where virtual is best for some families.”

All of the school’s teachers will also be providing in-person instruction as well while students attending virtually will be provided a separate curriculum that will be overseen at the school’s district level.

“Our teachers are asked to just teach the students that we have in the building, and they’re trying to make the school year feel as normal as possible, but we do have a mask mandate for the first 30 days of school, so students and teachers are required to wear masks inside,” she said.

The school is also implementing additional COVID-19 safety protocols such as not sharing school supplies, social distancing and frequent hand-washing. In addition, the school’s cafeteria has been arranged so that students face one direction so as to limit contact during meals.

“We had hoped that we weren’t even going to have to take the pandemic into consideration when we started this school year, but that’s not the case,” Stocks said. “So, we have fewer procedures in place, but we do have the things that we know have worked well for our kids to keep them safe and healthy.”

Regardless of world events, kindergarten teacher Wendy Goodwin welcomed her new class all the same and said that the current school year feels closer to normalcy even with the pandemic still lingering.

“From a teacher’s perspective, this year feels more normal than last year. We’re more together so that there is a better community-building atmosphere than last year with the staggered classes and with fewer students staying so separated,” she said.

Goodwin’s class is still social distancing and masking indoors, but said the first school day was filled with the same activities as any other year.

Students mostly conducted orientation and learned school procedures, but the day also consisted of learning and fun.

Even as she begins her 29th year as a teacher, Goodwin said the excitement of a new school year never wanes, largely in part due to the students.

“What always stands out to me is how fresh everything is through the kids, everything’s new and exciting to them,” she said. “As a kindergarten teacher, this is sometimes the first time a parent is trusting anyone with their kid so I think it’s really important to be accessible to parents and develop relationships with them. It is just really great to watch these kids grow up and get to know the families.”

As the new school year gets underway, Stocks specifically expressed gratitude to the school’s staff, parents and students.

“I just want to say that our Greystone school community is amazing. They are so supportive, and we would not be the school we are without the collaborative efforts of our teachers, students, and parents in the community,” Stocks said. “We are just really proud of our school and what it is and how well our students do achievement-wise, and we are just looking forward to a really great year.”

Greystone Elementary School will host a family Bingo Night as part of back-to-school festivities. The event, which had been originally scheduled for Friday, Aug. 13 has been postponed until further notice. A new date will be announced by the school’s administration.