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Easing the Transition from At-Home to In-School Learning

Kids in Class“My backpack is really heavy!” said Tyler, a seventh grader at Somers Middle School, who hasn’t attended in-person classes since March 2020. Rubbing his sore shoulder for emphasis, he explained that being a fully remote student for such a long time meant that he wasn’t used to carrying all of his books around.

Tyler isn’t the only formerly remote student returning to the middle school with unique concerns. Students who have spent the past year and a half attending classes via home computer worry about finding their classrooms, navigating lockers, and readjusting to the structure of an in-person school day.

“I was definitely excited to come back and see my friends and teachers, but I was also stressed about things like locating my locker and finding my way around,” said Smera, a seventh grader.

Wanting to address the concerns of students like Smera and Tyler, Somers Middle School social worker Kristen Rigaglia and school counselor Ellen Bieber created a special orientation program just for those students whose families had opted for fully remote learning last year.

“We realized it was going to be difficult for kids to be gone so long and then come back,” said Rigaglia.

In late August, Rigaglia and Bieber invited all of the formerly remote students to a special orientation at the school, featuring fun icebreaker activities and plenty of time for asking questions and sharing concerns. Games like Find-a-Friend Bingo and a school-wide scavenger hunt were designed to make the students feel more comfortable by the time the district opened its doors to full in-person learning on September 1.

“Throughout the afternoon, we let the students know they could ask us anything,” said Bieber. “They were extremely open about their concerns.”

Students could also use anonymous post-it notes to express their needs as they return to school, as well as what they want their teachers to know. Mask breaks and a more interactive classroom environment were among the needs mentioned by students. A desire for more hands-on activities and anxiety about doing classroom presentations were among the things students wanted their teachers to be aware of.

Sammie, a 7th grader, enjoyed learning remotely last year, but was looking forward to the new school year. She said that, for her, the orientation program was a fun way to get back into the groove of things and start fresh. “It was like a little spark to get your mind going again.”