STRASBURG – Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Robin Shrum understands that things will be different if students return to in-person classes on Aug. 31, but she and her staff are determined to make the best of it.

Shrum said they want to make things as safe and familiar as they possibly can even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Kids will come and I think it will be hard because there will be some things that are different,” Shrum said during a school tour on Aug. 6. “But we’re trying to make it as much like it has been as we can, still have some of the same systems in place so that it’s not that they’re showing up to a completely different experience, because I think there is some safety in the knowing.”

In July, he Shenandoah County School Board approved a school reopening plan for a hybrid model of learning that includes students in kindergarten through fifth grade attending in-person classes four days a week. Last week, Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston and the School Board decided to look at possibly starting the year doing all-virtual learning and a decision is expected soon.

Shrum said that all students will have to wear a mask as they enter the building. She said students will enter the school at the door closest to their room so that everyone is not trying to enter the same area all at once. Students who ride the bus will have to wear a mask on the bus, and students being dropped off by family members will have to put a mask on before entering the school.

Each of the classes have desks spread out 6 feet apart. Students will not have to wear a mask when they are at their desk but if they get up and move around they will have to wear their mask.

Shrum said that she recently asked for masks from friends on Facebook and expects to have 400 masks available for students who don’t have one.

She said they also will have double-sided clip-ons for each student so that they can clip their masks to their shirts when they are sitting at their desks.

Shrum said she knows it will be an adjustment for the students, but she believes they will be able to handle it.

“I love hugs, I love smiles, so my concern is making sure kids know how we feel in spite of this,” Shrum said while wearing her mask. “But I think you can tell when I’m smiling, you can tell when I’m not. So there’s going to be a slight learning curve.”

Sandy Hook will have students in kindergarten through fourth graders for four days a week this year. Fifth-graders will be going to Signal Knob Middle School. Shrum said three of her fifth-grade teachers moved to the middle school to teach the fifth-graders and three have stayed at Sandy Hook. One of the teachers will be teaching third-graders and the other two will be teaching fourth-graders.

“It all worked out really well and no one is having to do anything they weren’t comfortable with,” Shrum said.

One change for the students is they will not be able to drink from the water fountains. There are plastic bags over each fountain now but there is a station where students fill up their bottles. Each student will be given a water bottle and each classroom also has a spigot where they can go to fill their bottles.

In the classrooms, Shrum said they removed some of the tables that paraprofessionals would work at with students. They also got rid of bean bag chairs and some of the wobble stools.

“It still is bright and inviting (in the classrooms), and I think that’s what’s really important to my staff,” Shrum said. “Because I know some school systems have said you need to come and clean everything out. But my teachers spend a lot of their time here – it’s kind of their home.”

Shrum said the librarian will be visiting the classrooms to teach library lessons. She said students will go to the library in small groups.

“That way we can monitor them touching things,” Shrum said. “We’re going to be all about washing hands before you look and pick up your book.”

She said there will be lots of signage throughout the school reminding students of the COVID-19 protocols.

Shrum said that art classes have switched from tables to desks for each student. She said technology teachers will travel to classrooms to teach, which means there will be more one-on-one teaching. Shrum said that they will still have physical education classes but there will be fewer students in each class.

Shrum said that they usually have around 300 students at a time for lunch in the cafeteria but this fall they will only have 48 at a time. She said only third- and fourth-graders will be eating in the cafeteria with kindergarten, first- and second-graders having lunch in their classrooms.

Teachers reported back to school on Aug. 3 and have professional days through Aug. 28. Shrum said her teachers are already starting to learn the new learning management system Schoology and are trying to adjust to everything.

“I think there’s definitely some anxiety because they want to do what’s best,” she said. “They want to make sure they’re supporting the kids and the parents because if kids are learning virtually that’s different for them, too. So they’re trying to figure out how to do this face-to-face and the virtual and do it all well and stay safe and healthy. So I think there’s a lot on their minds.”

While the reopening of schools is sure to be challenging, Shrum said that she believes they will get through it together and do it with patience and understanding.

“I worry for the kids whose families think (the COVID-19 pandemic) isn’t a real thing,” Shrum said. “Part of me kind of hopes that it isn’t a real thing, but there’s enough data that says it’s real. But for them, if they haven’t been taking any of this seriously and then we have to try to enforce it, I think that will be challenging. But we’ll do it with love and lots of communication with kids and the families. We’ll be ready.

“...I don’t know what the right answer is, but we’re going to do everything we can to make this work and make kids feel welcomed and loved.”

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com