Woonsocket, N. Smithfield students head back to school full-time

Woonsocket, N. Smithfield students head back to school full-time

Prom, graduation plans in the works

After a long year of distance learning, the end is finally in sight for students who spent part or all of the past year learning from home.

The Woonsocket Education Department announced a plan last week to bring students back to class five days per week. With the exception of kindergarten and pre-K students, who are already back to school full-time, students have been on a combination of fully distanced and hybrid learning schedules all year.

Next Monday, April 5, students in grade 6 at Woonsocket Middle School and grades 9 and 12 at Woonsocket High School will return to in-person learning five days per week. Next Tuesday, they’ll be joined by grades 1 and 2. Elementary school students will attend school four days a week through early May to allow students who chose to continue distance learning to come into the school for testing on Mondays.

The following week, on April 12, grades 7, 8, 10 and 11 will return for in-person learning. Grades 3, 4 and 5 will join them on April 13, placing the entire district back in school buildings at least four days per week.

Supt. Patrick McGee said during a School Committee meeting that the plan relies on new guidance reducing the required amount of space between desks from six feet to three feet, as well as some creativity at lunchtimes. He said elementary schools will likely be utilizing outdoor space as well as other rooms in the building for lunch.

“We’re going to see some COVID cases, I think that that’s something that everybody understands, and there will be instances where we have to quarantine. That’s not going to change,” he said.

McGee also announced plans to move forward with end-of-year events, though those events will likely look different than in previous years. Woonsocket High School Principal Carnell Henderson said the school has assembled a committee of parents, students and staff members to plan an outdoor graduation at Barry Field along with other graduation events.

“If we do have to be outside, the goal is that we utilize the space that we have at Barry Field and we would have to just rent tents and utilize the tent for the week,” he said.

Henderson said the committee is also planning a prom and is looking for outdoor venues to hold the event. All events, he said, will have a virtual component so family members or students can participate from home.

In North Smithfield, students in grade 8 returned to class four days per week this week, marking the final grade to return from hybrid learning. According to Supt. Michael St. Jean, all grades are now in school four days per week.

“I just want to give a tremendous thank you to the town of North Smithfield and Chief Chartier, and their counterparts in Woonsocket, for the vaccination clinic,” he said during a School Committing meeting last Tuesday, March 23.

St. Jean said all North Smithfield teachers, food service staff and bus drivers were given the opportunity to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 shot at the locally run clinic on March 12. Between the vaccinations, the warmer weather and changes in guidance from the CDC, he said, “it just seemed right now was the time to reopen.”

Like McGee, he cautioned against becoming too complacent with the new, in-person schedule.

“It’s not fully back to normal, and we can’t let our guard down,” he said. “Just last week, there were three classes at NSES who were on full quarantine along with seven staff. Just this week, we had a 5th-grade classroom on quarantine.”

St. Jean said North Smithfield High School is also planning a prom, though no details have been released as of yet. He said the district is also looking at how to safely hold graduation.

“I’ve seen some of the super secret slides, and there’s a lot of hoops to jump through, but we’re convinced this could be a possibility,” he said.

The district, he said, is not sure yet whether it will return students to school on Mondays before the end of the school year due to scheduling conflicts with professional days and testing.

Other schools are also moving to return students to in-person class. Last month, Mount St. Charles Academy announced a plan to have all students back in class full-time by Monday, April 5. Founders Academy, the middle school associated with Beacon Charter High School for the Arts, is also planning to have its students attend class four days per week beginning this Thursday, April 1.