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What schools can learn from teachers and staff who have returned to in-person learning early

Some children in Montgomery County have already been back inside their classrooms for about a month. Here are the lessons that can be learned from their experiences.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — It's that time of year again when parents are buying backpacks and pencils and teachers are putting the finishing touches on their lesson plans as they prepare to welcome students back to their classrooms -- some for the first time in more than a year. 

But a few DMV educators returned to school early, including some children in Montgomery County who have been back for nearly a month. 

At Arcola Elementary in Wheaton, Maryland, Mrs. Kim Lee is already teaching second grade, after teaching virtually since March 2020.

“My mindset was like a lot of nerves just because I hadn't been in the building in so long,” she said. “I was just nervous about bringing back everything I did pre-COVID and how that was going to play out with all the COVID restrictions."

Arcola is one of two "Innovative Schools" in Montgomery County that has year-round schooling for all their students, which means they went back to class to start the year in early July, instead of August or September.

Credit: WUSA9
COVID protocols in Mrs. Lee's 2nd grade classroom

“Being the first one to have to do this I think is the biggest challenge,” Principal Emmanuel Jean-Philippe, said. “We're dealing with children and we want to keep everyone safe and everyone is looking to us to find out how is it going.”

Now, the guinea pigs are sharing a few of their lessons learned, to pave the way for other students and teachers. 

“You want to ensure that you review your logistics and operations,” Jean-Philippe said. “As complex as what entrances and exits are we going to now use based on the things that we've learned and so keeping in mind you are not returning to what you left.”

Once inside the classrooms, students experience even more changes — everyone is wearing masks; there are sanitizing stations; teachers are limiting sharing, so kids have their own classroom materials.

Credit: WUSA9
Sign at Arcola Elementary shows COVID protocols

Some of the changes in Lee's classroom aren't physical.

“Usually when they start second grade, they're kind of over the period of 'oh I miss my mom,'” she said. “A lot of the students were having a really hard time transitioning back to being in the classroom and being away from their families.”

RELATED: Find out what your school district is doing about masks this upcoming semester

Lee's best advice for teachers who are coming back to class in the next few weeks? Take it slow. 

“I know as teachers we get so much pressure of ‘oh you have to do this assessment,’ ‘oh you need to do this,’ and ‘you need to hit on all of these lessons for benchmark and Eureka,’ and the students just are not ready for it right now," she said. "They really need to build that classroom community first and know how to be around other kids again and know how to be back in the school, back in the classroom.”

RELATED: Back to school: Virginia issues new guidance for returning to classrooms

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