Seattle Public Schools welcomes students back to in-person learning Monday

Elementary school students and secondary students with disabilities return to buildings at Seattle Public Schools on Monday — Gov. Jay Inslee’s deadline for districts to offer in-person instruction for young students.

Beginning April 5, kindergarten through fifth grade students in Seattle Public Schools will return to in-person instruction. Students enrolled in the district’s Intensive Services Pathway program will also return to school Monday.

Principal Michael Berkenwald of Loyal Heights Elementary School said almost 90 percent of families expressed the need for their children to be back in a classroom setting. Kindergarten teacher Kelsey Jackson said she has been decorating her classroom all school year in preparation for students’ return.

"I’m very excited. I’m ready. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. So, knowing there’s a plan, knowing that it will be safe I think just makes it all the more yeah let’s do it!" said Jackson.

RELATED: Seattle school district, teachers' union reach tentative agreement for 6-12 grade in-person learning

For the past few weeks, staff has been working countless hours to make sure safety measures are in place. Desks and seats are spaced out, signs and floor markers demonstrate social distancing and hand sanitizing stations are throughout the school.

"We realized that this was a very short amount of time to put together opening a school in a new way that no principal, no building has had to do it before," said Berkenwald.

"Labeling, and separating and making sure that everyone has their own stuff has been the biggest piece. But then it’s all the small things of how am I going to use toys, how am I going to divide up my markers, said Jackson. "Handwashing—I’ve put out a ton of handwashing signs and I even have bought more step stools for more sinks so that way they can reach them."

RELATED: Bellevue school district, teachers' union reach agreement for in-person learning

The district outlines the new guidelines for in-person instruction on its website. In part, students will be divided into two groups in this new phase. Each group will be assigned to either a morning or afternoon session in the classroom to maintain safe space. All students will continue remote learning every Wednesday.

Jackson said she believes going back to school will help students heal from the social and emotional toll of learning from home this past year.

"Then there’s the engagement—being able to teach certain things that you really can’t teach online. I feel like our reading has been tough because we’re not able to read together and learn certain things and speech is difficult," said the kindergarten teacher.

Berkenwald said 58 students and their families decided to continue learning at home for their safety. Families that decide to stick with remote learning for the rest of the year will continue receiving daily lesson plans from their teachers.

As schools throughout the district navigate new changes and plans returning to class, the goal for students remains the same.

"Finding that love of school again. I think we kind of all have lost it a little bit as we’ve been learning online and it’s been different. And overall I want them to feel confident in their academic ability and I want them to feel like their teachers love them, support them and are ready to help them in any way," said Jackson.

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