Daily, I reflect on the fact that I have not had a chance to see our students in our classrooms during the last year. It almost seems unreal after this challenging pandemic has placed barriers on our instructional program that we had never before experienced and were not trained to endure.
I could have never imagined that we would be seeing students and staff in winter gear on our first day of in-person learning, because our first day of school usually brings summer weather and a blazing, sunny day. I was nonetheless encouraged that last week we were reunited with close to 1,300 students arriving, grabbing their breakfast and heading to their classrooms for the first time this school year.
This scene gave me a renewed sense of hope as I traveled across elementary schools and felt the joy of seeing our students in their learning stations, engaged, ready to learn and smiling. Reuniting with our students and staff reminded me of my “why,” when I decided to become a lifelong educator.
It was exciting to talk with our young people, welcome them back and encourage them to adjust to this new environment. It was incredible to see the resilience of our students and staff to adapt to this “reimagined” learning environment and to embrace this new normal.
Throughout my visits, I witnessed students and teachers engaging with our virtual learners, participating in breakout rooms with their virtual peers and making their learning spaces their own – ignoring the plexiglass in front of them and participating fully in their learning experience. What was evident in all of my classroom drop-ins was that students are hungry to learn and that our team is poised to assist our students to recover and get acclimated to this new world of learning.
In my years as superintendent, I have had the good fortune to meet many of our educators and watch them grow and illustrate their talents in classrooms and realize tremendous outcomes as a result. This week, I was even more impressed with our instructional team who returned to classrooms early, practiced, prepared and were ready to implement our concurrent teaching model.
I walked into classrooms where teachers were dancing with students for movement breaks, which I joined in on; they were leading reading groups along with virtual learners and mastering the engagement of both our hybrid and virtual learners through a variety of activities to ensure that all students felt included. I could not resist the opportunity to give teachers a bow when I greeted them to thank them for trusting the process and joining us to get schools reopened. Without our instructional team and committed school leaders, our reopening plan could not have come to life.
Families and staff have long awaited this reopening, and I could not have been prouder of the teamwork and collaboration that I observed and engaged in over the past year to make this a reality. This is a true gift as a superintendent to be girded up by an incredibly talented and dedicated team that puts students first.
As we navigate the coming months, I anticipate more opportunities to learn, improve and enhance our instructional delivery to ensure that students recover from this pandemic through a focus on social, emotional and academic learning. After all the energy and enthusiasm that our team and I encountered this week, we are ready to reunite with more students and staff over the coming weeks to keep the learning going and ensure that we address the racial inequities that have been highlighted throughout this dual pandemic of COVID-19 and racial injustices.
We are ready, we have been reignited and could not be more grateful for the support of our community to help us reach this milestone.
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.