FAIRMONT — For the first time since mid-March, Marion County students had classes at their schools Tuesday to kick off the 2020-21 school year amid a global coronavirus pandemic.
Students had the choice of a blended learning model, where they attend school physically for two days and online the remaining three, or the distance learning model, where they attend school completely online. Students who opted for the blended model will attend school in groups, with one group attending Monday and Tuesday and the other attending Thursday and Friday, while Wednesday is designated as a cleaning day for each building.
Marion County School Superintendent Randy Farley said the first day of school went smoothly considering the circumstances.
“Today was very smooth, and I think having the soft start was a very good thing,” Farley said. “That allowed for the smaller groups time to spend on teacher’s expectations for the new normal. I saw all the students had masks on and they came with their own, most of them.”
At each individual school, administrators set guidelines for students to follow, in order to maintain safety. Guidelines are in place at every school level, and Tuesday was mainly spent relaying these new changes to students.
“Students are getting used to the traffic pattern now around campus, because we try to keep them as separated as possible,” said Jim Green, assistant principal of Fairmont Senior High. “Stairwells are one direction and things like that, so they’re getting used to it.”
This idea of one-way traffic flow, now commonplace in restaurants, stores and public facilities, is in place at several schools. Students and teachers are also told to constantly wear a face covering, which Rob Shaffer, principal of West Fairmont Middle, said most people in the school are used to.
“Our kids are doing an incredible job of making sure they are maintaining their social distancing and keeping their masks on,” Shaffer said. “Our teachers are also doing an incredible job of teaching them our expectations as far as social distancing and teaching them how to get to their classes.”
Also at the middle school level, Deb Conover, principal of East Fairmont Middle, said students and faculty did a good job following the rules, and the first day of school went off without a problem.
“It was fabulous today,” Conover said. “It was smooth, the kids have been great, they are wearing their masks, we have not had to say anything; they’re just doing what they need to do.”
Schools closed abruptly in the spring when the coronavirus pandemic began, Conover said, she saw students and teachers at least a little happy to be back in the school setting.
“You can tell that they missed each other,” Conover said. “They’re still keeping their distance, but you can tell they’re smiling under those masks. They’re just happy to be back.”
Green, too, said the students seem to have some positive feelings about their return because they get to see their teachers and friends once again. He said approximately 60 percent of students at Fairmont Senior opted into the blended learning model, so there were about 200 kids in the school Tuesday.
“Everybody seems to be in a good mood, happy to see each other,” Green said. “We were supposed to have a quarter of the kids today, which would be a little over 200. So we’re at three quarters (in blended learning).”
Shaffer also said about 60 percent of students at West Fairmont chose the blended learning model. This boiled down to mostly seventh and eighth graders, whom he believes want to return to an almost normal school routine.
“We’re at about 60 percent blended and 40 percent distanced,” Shaffer said. “Mainly our seventh and eighth graders are the ones who wanted to be a blended student. I think our sixth graders are right around 50 percent.”
Conover said the students entering fifth grade adjusted well to the changes in school policy, because they had not been in the building last school year. She said Tuesday was mostly about alerting students to the changes, so they can adjust as time goes on.
“We had teachers here early assisting the kids, helping them where they needed to go,” Conover said. “Our fifth graders who are coming from elementary schools just blended right in, so it was good.”
Shaffer attributed the good outcome to the first day of school to his teachers, personnel and other administrators who helped devise the procedures to keep staff and students safe. He hopes to see the cooperation of students continue, so everyone can be safe in the school for as long as possible.
“I’m just very proud of our kids, our faculty, our staff; everybody has done a great job to get ready for this,” Shaffer said.