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Teachers ready to return to school

Schools across the area are gearing up to welcome students back into the classroom for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic put a sudden halt to in-person learning in March.

Reopening plans address student and staff safety, and teachers will be adjusting to new protocols.

Joe Logan has been teaching at Central High School in Martinsburg for 20 years and serves as the teachers’ union president. Logan said he is eager to get back into the classroom and he believes the district’s reopening plan has succeeded in making the safest environment possible.

“We are in a good place,” Logan said. “All our stakeholders were part of the plan, so if anyone had any reservations or questions, they had the opportunity to express them.”

Spring Cove, like all districts, switched to virtual learning in the spring, and while it served the purpose of finishing the school year, Logan said it could not replace in-person instruction.

“Nothing can replace feeding off a student’s facial expression, or them being excited about a teacher’s mannerisms when they are excited about a subject,” he said. “When you are distanced, it is very hard to invoke those same kinds of emotions.”

Logan said if everyone does their part, students and staff will be safe inside the building.

“If we are doing what all of us have promised to do, then hopefully we are all able to pull this off safely and get back to some sense of normalcy.”

Safely spaced

and confident

Steve Wilson has been an educator for 43 years and said he has never felt unsafe in the classroom. This year is no exception.

“I feel 100 percent safe getting back in the classroom,” he said. “I think all of our teachers are excited and looking forward to getting back into it.”

Wilson, who teaches at St. Patrick School in Newry, said his school’s large building with smaller class sizes gives it an advantage when it comes to social distancing. Even if enrollment climbs, Wilson said St. Patrick’s has the ideal layout for safe social distancing.

“Our classrooms and cafeteria are large,” he said. “We are able to space the students so everyone is at a safe distance from one another.”

Like Logan, Wilson said it is important to get the kids back in school if it can be done safely.

“We have to get back,” he said. “Kids need teachers, and distance learning isn’t for everybody. We miss our kids.”

Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School teachers Gina Baker and Katrina Brown have a combined 73 years of teaching experience. While BG is well equipped for remote learning, Baker and Brown said they too are looking forward to getting back in the classroom.

Both teachers said they are confident that the plan BG has put in place will make for a safe environment for students and staff.

“I do feel safe. I have a lot on confidence in Joan Donnelly’s plan for our return and the safety for the teachers and students alike,” Baker said of Bishop Guilfoyle’s principal.

Brown agrees with Baker in feeling confident that in-person classes will be safe.

“The administration was very busy doing its homework in getting things set up for us to come back in a safe environment,” Brown said.

Like Wilson, both Baker and Brown said they are looking forward to seeing their students. Even with BG’s advanced, remote-learning program, the teachers said being physically in front of their students is preferred.

“I miss my students a lot,” Brown said. “Even with social distancing, I’m willing to separate myself for social distancing and wear my mask. These kids miss school. Part of growing is school culture and it isn’t in front of an iPad. I can’t wait to get back.”

Baker agreed, saying she will be relieved to see her students.

Excited and worried

Hollidaysburg Area teacher and union President Todd Russell said he is looking forward to getting back in the classroom but that there is some anxiety about how safe it will be.

“I have not spoken to one of our members who isn’t anxious to get back in the classroom, but there is a lot of anxiety out there about what we are walking into,” Russell said.

Russell said that it’s normal to be worried, but that as long as everyone follows the guidelines in the district’s reopening plan, everyone could stay safe.

“I don’t feel 100 percent sure, but if everything is taken into consideration with the masks and social distancing, it’s the best you can do with what you have.”

Russell said it isn’t realistic to feel completely safe with COVID-19 out there, but if the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are followed, he is comfortable going into the classroom.

“We want to get back in the classroom,” he said. “But at the same time there is a boatload of anxiety. The district is doing the best it can. We have never been here before.”

Mirror Staff Writer Rick Boston is at 946-7535

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