STAFFORD COUNTY, Va. — The first day of school has a history of creating a range of emotions. Some students rush the front doors with excitement and others with disappointment. But, this year looks to be a year unlike any other.
Nearly all schools in the D.C. metro area will return to in-person learning. After 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic that have brought new challenges and new uncertainty, there’s a new emotion for some teachers in Stafford County.
“I feel like a first-year teacher again!” Widewater Elementary School music teacher Lois Washington smiled. “I'm a little nervous, to be honest, but I think it just makes us human.”
Washington is one of the hundreds of Stafford County Schools faculty that headed back to work on Monday morning.
Stafford County Schools are one of the first districts to get back to classes. This year, the students came back several weeks earlier than in previous years.
“We are getting in front of the unfinished learning, making sure that we engage students early trying to recover what we didn't teach last year, particularly for our earliest learners,” Stafford county Schools Associate Superintendent Dr. Stan Jones said.
Prior to the pandemic, 75% of Stafford County students in grades Kindergarten through 2nd grade read at grade level. During the pandemic, officials found that the number dropped to 55%.
“We know that for math and reading, students need to be deeply embedded in that learning as we go into this year,” Dr. Jones said. “So, starting the school year really, certainly gives us an opportunity to do that.”
Washington pulls double duty at Widewater Elementary. She is a teacher and a parent to three students. She saw the challenges up close from both roles when it came to virtual learning.
“It was a challenge to see if learning was taking place at first,” she said. “But we were able to find a balance. We have a supportive network and our family.”
As the sun came up, the students arrived at Widewater’s front door. In addition to book bags and lunch boxes, students had another accessory: masks.
“We learned a lot last year,” Dr. Jones explained. “We continue to follow the ventilation strategies, the physical distancing, to the extent possible masking.”
It’s a new school year with new challenges across the country. But, on the first day of classes, there is one familiar feeling: Excitement.