ALEXANDRIA, VA–Today, March 2, 2021, Alexandria City Public Schools welcomed back 1,291 students to all of its schools. I toured the Mount Vernon Community School today at 1pm in honor of its reopening.
On March 13, 2020, the Mount Vernon Community School, the only fully dual-language school in the ACPS system, closed its doors. Today, it begins welcoming back 187 students and 21 classroom teachers of the pre-k through fifth-grade cohort. Adopting a hybrid model of learning, roughly half of the cohort will attend in person Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the other half will attend Thursdays and Fridays, with Mondays being left to teachers as planning days.
Outside on the playground soccer pitch, in the sunshine and gentle breeze, a press conference kicked off the tour. Present for questions were Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings Jr., Mount Vernon Community School Principal Liza Burrell-Aldana, fourth grade teacher Emily Porterfield, and two fourth grade students Natalie Gonzalez and Luis Aleman.
Superintendent Hutchings begins, “Many of our teachers are adjusting to this whole situation and they are appreciative of the way we are doing the transition staggered versus everyone being back right away. And the kids are so resilient.”
The proper COVID-19 protocols are in place throughout the school, such as PPE, social distancing footage and signage, antibacterial gel and handwashing stations, and a health annex for anyone experiencing symptoms to isolate.
As well, while vaccinations are not a requirement for returning to the school, Mount Vernon Community School has been working with the Alexandria Health department to get their teachers vaccinated.
Children also have the option to opt out of the hybrid model into the virtual one. However, they cannot opt into the hybrid model from the virtual one.
Superintendent Hutchings comments on the dual options for schooling, “Everybody has to make the right choice for their families and for their students. We will continue to use the guidelines that we have been using since before we opened our doors, and we have been communicating with parents and staff more than ever before.”
While the transition back to in-person learning requires some serious logistics and precautions, the teachers and children alike are excited for their first day back in 351 days.
Principal Burrell-Aldana says, “We’ve been looking forward to this day since March of last year. The teachers and students are our ‘why’ so just watching them today learn in their classrooms safely and smiling… they’re just so happy to be back. This has been a great day and we really appreciate the fact that we can see them again.”
That same excitement is seen in the two fourth grade students, Natalie and Luis. Natalie’s favorite part of being back at school is “being in the classroom.” Luis says learning from home was “tough” and that wearing masks is “tough, but good to make everyone safe.”
Teachers and students alike have had a mountain to climb in the past year. But Principal Burrell-Aldana says of her staff, “Our staff are committed to this program and this school. This has been a one-year process, but the teachers have done a great job educating our children and making sure they are still learning despite all the odds and the distance.”
Fourth grade teacher Emily Porterfield says of her adjustment as a teacher, “What we do as teachers is we work together and collaborate to plan instruction. We’ve become pretty skillful at creating small groups, giving kids the opportunity to think, speak, read, and write every day in the class. We want to make sure we have a lot of engagement in the classroom for our students. We as teachers have been working really hard over the past year to make that a reality.”
Porterfield concludes, “I think the best part of today was actually watching the kids get off the bus and get ready and come in the classroom. It was a sense of relief and joy for all of us.”
A teacher for 23 years in Alexandria, Porterfield has no doubt seen a lot, but this year has been unlike any other for students and teachers across the world. With more schools opening back up, there is some light shed upon a new normal. While social distancing must remain, socializing can begin again.