Dartmouth's youngest learners return to the classroom full time

Mar 22, 2021

School might be ending in just a couple of months, but for Dartmouth’s elementary schoolers, March 22 felt more like the start of the academic year.

On Monday, hundreds of the district’s youngest students were able to see their full classrooms — some for the very first time — as elementary schools began the first phase of full reopenings.

Students across the district have been learning in a hybrid model with alternating cohorts attending school in person every other day since October. 

But this week, Dartmouth’s Pre-K through first graders came back to school full time.

“Things went well — we had no major problems,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bonny Gifford said at a March 22 School Committee meeting. “It was a good day.” 

Potter School Principal Rick Porter said things went “great” on this first day of full learning, noting that students were especially good at following the Covid-era protocols amid the larger class sizes.

“Even our youngest three and four year olds have had no problems with masks,” he added. 

Substitute kindergarten teacher Rachel Medeiros, who also taught at Cushman this past year, said it was “so fun to see them be able to talk with students from the other cohort.”

“It was just so great to see all the desks filled too,” she added. “They’ve been great all year and I think it’s good for them to be together and see each other in person.” 

For the first full day back, the kindergarten instructor said a big focus of class was learning about personal space since they now have more of their masked peers inside the classroom. 

Of course, she added, there was still time for games on the whiteboard, along with socialization from a distance.

“It’s not like a typical kindergarten setting in the midst of Covid,” Medeiros said. “But they’re resilient.” 

A lot of preparation went into making the full return possible.

To get students ready for more people inside, Porter said additional desks were put in a couple of weeks ago so the kids could get used to practicing their social distancing. 

Guidance counselors have also been meeting with students who are feeling a bit anxious about the increase in numbers.

The biggest challenge, Porter said, was trying to figure out how students would remain socially distanced at lunchtime — something the principal anticipates will still need work as the rest of the elementary students return the week of April 5.

Under state guidelines, students can be three feet apart when masked up, but must keep six feet apart when not wearing a mask. To maintain social distancing in the cafeteria, Porter said the whole room was reconfigured with more tables.

“That way we can have 79 kids in the cafeteria at six feet apart,” Porter said.

Even with the logistics, the principal said it’s just great to be one step closer to normalcy.

“We’ve done a lot of leg work,” he said. “It was a little bit of a challenge, but we did it.”