'Full of Adrenaline but Incredibly Positive': Plymouth Principal Reflects on First Week | New Hampshire Public Radio

'Full of Adrenaline but Incredibly Positive': Plymouth Principal Reflects on First Week

Sep 4, 2020

Volunteers and Parks and Recreation staff set up 400 tree stumps for outdoor classrooms at Plymouth Elementary School.
Credit Tonia Orlando

Some schools are wrapping up their first week of classes on Friday - whether that's remote, hybrid or fully in person. NHPR’s Sarah Gibson caught up with one school leader about what it's been like so far.

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Tonia Orlando, principal of Plymouth Elementary School, says bringing students back to school this week was “full of adrenaline but incredibly positive.”

“I think the build-up to it was huge,” she says, “But then once there were kids in our building, it felt very normal and regular.”

Nearly all students are back in class five days a week, but they're required to wear masks and maintain social distance. Young students are learning how to project through their masks and teachers are still figuring out new routines.

“The aha’s that were more challenging were figuring out how long it takes to get a group of 15 kids to wash their hands a couple times a day,” she laughs. “But it’s also really important.”

Orlando says amid the joy of returning to school, there's a lot of anxiety. Her approach is to “name it and claim it.”

“Say out loud: ‘I think you’re feeling anxious. I’m feeling anxious about this,” she advises other school leaders heading back to school. “And don’t try to deny that it’s there, because it’s real and it’s there for good reason right now. Because there’s a lot of unknown."

The district says it's relying on guidance from the state health department and the CDC, though it has established a lower threshold than recommended by the state for moving from an in-person to remote model. In Plymouth, if there is one positive case confirmed in a school, all classes will go remote temporarily.

Orlando says in the meantime, the schools is taking advantage of social connection in spite of social distance.

A local timber company, Wade A. Reed Logging, donated 400 tree stumps to the school. On warm days, classes go outside, students take off their masks, and their classrooms are set up in a cluster of tree stumps.

“The outdoor classrooms absolutely are full of joy,” says Orlando. “There are kids standing on stumps, leaning on stumps. Classrooms are doing read-alouds. There was a class outside practicing math on their white boards holding them up for their teacher, demonstrating their thinking out loud.”

Orlando says a lot of families are asking how long this new routine will last, and the only honest answer right now is: we don't know.

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COVID and The Classroom: NHPR wants to understand how this unusual school year is playing out across the state. Every few weeks, we'll ask you to answer a new question. The latest: How has going back to school been different for you this year? Give us a few examples here to help us tell the story.