Some Fairfax County students return to a greatly changed learning environment this week

Some young students in Fairfax County are returning to the classroom this week – and they’re learning how to do it safely.

Thousands of pre-K and kindergarten students were among the second wave of students returning to schools, despite the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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"I’m feeling really excited", said Graham Road ES Kindergarten teacher Claire Kelly. "Super hopeful for the future!" 

Students face a very different environment than the one left behind nearly one year ago when the novel coronavirus arrived in the D.C. area. 

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Twelve desks in Kelly’s classroom are carefully spaced out, and boards that might have once displayed math problems or spelling lessons are, instead, covered with safety rules for in-person learning in the era of COVID-19.  There are plexiglass dividers at the teacher’s desk, and video screens to interact with the students staying home. 

Lauren Badini – the principal at Graham Road Elementary in Falls Church – recognizes the challenges ahead.

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"It’s going to be tough. It really is. Especially the distancing piece. As you can see right now, there’s a big part of my face that you can’t see," Badini told FOX 5, referencing a mask she wore for an interview. "But building a community of learners and classrooms is something that these teachers are highly skilled at. We show kids that we care about them, and that we believe in them, and they can do anything. They have done kind of the unthinkable this year – so we’re really going to lean hard on those relationship building skills that are really part of the foundation of our school and our district."

For these youngest students, they’re meeting their classmates in person for the first time.

Like many districts around the Capital region, Fairfax County is phasing kids in.

Starting March 2, they’ll begin phasing in students in 8th, 9th, and 12th grade; and then on March 9, they’ll phase in 1st and 2nd graders, alogn with 7th, 10th, and 11th graders. On March 16, students in grades 3 through 6 will return.

The Return to School plan has caused quite a rift among the teacher unions, administration and families eager to reopen schools. 

This morning, Fairfax Education Association President Kimberly Adams told Fox Five’s Melanie Alnwick that there are no regrets in the fight to keep teachers and students safe. 

"The health and safety of staff and students is always at the forefront. No one has lived through a pandemic in recent US history, so we’ve done what we felt we needed to do to protect our community"