Polytech students return to COVID-era classroom

Students leave their buses as they start back to school at Polytech High School on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

WOODSIDE — In the early morning hours, buses unloaded one at a time, and Polytech High School students lined up several feet apart before heading through the doors for the first official day of classes Wednesday.

About 400 students were on campus — approximately a third of the school’s total population — to begin their hybrid learning amidst coronavirus.

“I think it went well,” Polytech Superintendent Amelia Hodges said of the start, after students trickled into the building.

As Tristan and Jillian Jones, freshman and sophomore, respectively, waited to go inside, they were optimistic about the start of the day.

“The whole wearing a mask part feels different,” Tristan noted.

Gabriel Horvath, a junior, was excited to be back and looking forward to his shop class and lunch. After schools closed in mid-March and students moved to remote learning, he missed the after-school programs and friends.

“It feels good to have a change of scenery, opposed to being locked up at home,” he said.

Students leave their buses as they start back to school at Polytech High School on Wednesday.

La’Rayne Jarmon, a junior, felt a little “eh” about the day, she said, noting a slight preference for an online start just out of simplicity.

“I feel like it’d be easier than all the procedures in place,” she said.

But she was excited to see her friends.

While Polytech will have students in its hallways and at desks, one cohort will be in school one day a week, with remote learning occurring each of the other days. For instance, B group arrived at the school Wednesday morning to officially begin classes, but their instruction will continue remotely on Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday.

Meanwhile, their peers in cohorts A and C started their school day from home.

The technical high school was among several others that started this week, though other districts began remotely — such as Capital, Lake Forest, Appoquinimink — with the intentions of phasing in a hybrid style after a period of about six weeks. Seaford opened its doors for its first day of hybrid learning Tuesday. More are slated for next week.

Students wearing masks and social distancing leave their buses as they start back on the first day of school at Polytech High School on Wednesday.

Following the conclusion of last school year, the Delaware Department of Education drafted a 34-page document that laid out guidance for reopening schools. Under hybrid learning — which the governor greenlit at the end of August — school districts must adhere to social distancing, mask wearing, increased sanitation and cleaning in classes, hallways and on buses.

How (and when) the district and charter leadership planned to open their buildings came down to local decisions, and those choices ran the gamut. Entirely remote options are available, however, across the state.

For Dr. Hodges, face-to-face instruction is important — not only for educational value, but also for the social and emotional wellbeing for the students, that “sense of community and belonging,” she said.

Delaware Secretary of Education Susan Bunting talks with Chief Equity Officer Jim Simmons as they witness the first day of school at Polytech High School on Wednesday.

“It’s exciting to kick off the year in person. We’re excited to have people in the building, and to make sure they’re doing well,” she said. “Overall, we’re really happy to offer the opportunity for students to be in the building for part of the time.”