Elementary Paraprofessional Elise Mangino

Elementary Paraprofessional Elise Mangino leads a Primero class during a lesson, demonstrating social distancing measures in place at the school.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to the routines of daily life, maybe nowhere more pronounced than in our schools. Over one month into the 2020-2021 school year, students and staff at Primero are adjusting to these changes and pushing forward to achieve solid academic success.

“Primero schools started classes on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. Our rigorous COVID-19 Precautionary Plan, approved by the County Public Health Department, has been implemented with fidelity, and improved upon from the successful operations experienced during summer school, which took place for four weeks in June,” said Primero Principal Blake Byall.

A key factor to getting the district up and running this fall has been the efforts made by the custodial staff. “There have been big changes in what I do,” said custodian Ed Ortiz, “but everything is about sanitizing and making school safe for all students, staff, and visitors.”

Primero’s teachers spent weeks prior to the beginning of the new school year learning the skills necessary to facilitate online teaching, and developing lesson plans and curriculum to allow them to transition between online, hybrid, and in-person learning based on the ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions.

Primero science teacher Josette Andrews said, “The school’s seamless transition to a block and hybrid schedule was due mostly to the fact that teaching online during the fourth quarter last school year prepared us well.”

“With very low employee turn-over and a huge influx of new students, the demands of starting the new school year have been tackled and largely overcome with the cooperation of the entire staff and dedication from all who strive to make Primero the best it can be,” said Byall.

Due to the district’s small size, it has been able to maintain varying levels of face-to-face instruction for all students, while ensuring safe learning conditions for both students and staff. “Our elementary school is in session four days a week. We teach 100 percent in-person K-5 classes to ninety-four students,” said Byall. “The middle school and high school students attend classes in person two days a week, and log on to virtual classes the other two days a week on a rotational basis.”

While many secondary students taking online classes in other districts are enrolled in ‘canned’ courses with little to no interaction with live teachers, Primero’s hybrid model allows students to work from home with the same teachers they see ‘live’ at school, ensuring continuity of curriculum and learning. “The ability of students to create solid connections with teaching staff is a huge advantage over a learning experience which consists entirely of online instruction,” said Byall.

“This fall, we have begun the process of assessing our students’ abilities and academic needs. Most Primero parents are confident that the experience their children are receiving at Primero is minimally affected by the current health crisis.”

“Through five weeks of teaching, the news from Primero School is overwhelmingly positive,” said Byall. “Students and staff alike have relished returning to the friendly confines of our building. The learning process is clearly visible in every classroom, and we have set our sights on academic growth and achievement goals for all learners despite the curveballs the pandemic may throw our way.”

Students and definitely thankful to have the opportunities to see one another, yet do so as safely as possible. “When it looked as if my senior year was beginning to unravel, I was scared of the difficulty that COVID has placed upon us,” said student Luisa Mejia. “However, hybrid learning has provided a way to make my school year as safe and as normal as possible. I’m glad to know that I will always get the help I need from my teachers, even if it is from home. I sure am happy I get to see my classmates and spend some time with them this year. I’m super thankful that I can have a somewhat normal senior year.”  

“With the changes at school due to COVID-19 and especially moving to Primero my senior year, the administration has been so great working with me to get the help I need,” added student Lila Allen.

James Vigil, a Primero coach and paraprofessional, agrees that coming back to school, even in a modified format, has been successful across the board. “Students and staff are very happy to be back. Our kids have shown a resilience that is not unexpected, but encouraging to witness.”

On the whole, the school district’s success thus far has been a team effort involving all stakeholders. “All of the staff and students have really stepped up to the challenges presented this year,” said school secretary Tina East. “Parental support has also been tremendous.”

And this extends to the health and safety plan devised by school administrators. “I’m very impressed with the school administration’s efforts to provide a safe environment for operations that conform to county health department mandates,” said Primero coach and Athletic Director Jose Esquivias.

While many extracurricular activities have been affected by local, state, and national restrictions, Primero is working within those confines to provide enrichment opportunities for students. “After-school and weekend programming are beginning to take shape,” Byall said. “High school and middle school athletics are still in limbo to a certain degree based on decisions being made at the state and county level.”

“We have many challenges to address as the year progresses, but the common vision of school, parents, community, and local partners will serve as the driving force toward ensuring a successful year at Primero RE-2.”

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