SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT: Welcome back, K-1 students
Posted 01/21/2021 09:30AM

Schools get creative to find space for K-1 students

At the Buker School, the gymnasium is a kindergarten classroom. The music room at the Winthrop School now houses first-graders. The gallery at Cutler is being used as a library. Desks and tables have been stored wherever there is available space, in order to follow prescribed social distancing. 

It took a great deal of effort and creativity to make it happen, but the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District welcomed back all kindergarten and first grade students at the same time for in-person learning Tuesday, for the first time in more than 10 months.

“It’s not just about getting the kids back in school, it’s putting them in an environment that leads to a quality educational experience,” said Superintendent of Schools Mary Beth Banios. “We wanted to make sure they have room to move around and work in small groups, while sticking with the 6-foot threshold for social distancing that is recommended by the CDC.”

The three elementary schools are maximizing virtually every inch of space in order to provide the in-person learning experience for the approximately 200 K-1 students at the three schools. The gym at Winthrop is doubling as a storage area and school library. Desks, chairs and cafeteria tables are stacked in the Cutler gym. 

“We’re trying to be flexible and creative,” said Cutler Principal Jenn Clifford. “We are problem-solving each day. Every single aspect of school continues to change this year.”

Winthrop Principal Carolyn Shediac said custodians have built additional coat racks in the hallways and staff worked throughout the holiday vacation – with the welcome help of volunteer Hamilton-Wenham High School students – to move furniture and set up new classroom areas.

The combined cafeteria/auditorium at Winthrop is now a makeshift gym, while the stage area is being used for tutoring.

Buker Principal Ben Schersten said an effort was made to give the larger spaces the feel of regular classrooms, through the use of dividers and mats. All in all, “everyone is happy to be here,” he said.

The K-1 students are coming to school four days, with Wednesday reserved for special subjects such as physical education, art and music to be studied remotely.

Noting that not all classrooms are big enough to accommodate an entire class while observing social distancing, and the limited amount of common spaces in every building, Banios called the return of the K-1 students “a step in the right direction.”

“The goal is to get all students back,” she said. “The kids want to be in school, the parents want it and the teachers want it. We will learn from this experience and continue to look for any opportunities we can find to bring more students back in.”