MONROE, CT — A hand sanitizer dispenser is set up in front of the security desk in the lobby of Masuk High School and a plastic barrier screen is set up in front of the chair, where Assistant Principal Julia Strong sat, while greeting incoming freshmen and student volunteers for Fresh Fest Thursday afternoon.
Reminders of the COVID-19 pandemic were seen on signs posted throughout the school promoting cloth face masks, social distancing and hand-washing. It was in this atmosphere that students took part in the annual event to familiarize freshmen with their new building before school starts. Fresh Fest is also being held Friday.
“I think the pure problem solving over the summer has been exhausting, but uplifting collaboration,” Strong said of the planning for the start of school on Sept. 1. “It has taken all of us to figure this out. As tired as I feel these days, I have so much energy today after seeing the kids at Fresh Fest. Their teenage energy is the boost we all need to open our school buildings, not only safely but joyfully.”
Among the changes to this year’s event, a meeting with students, teachers, guidance counselors and administrators was held remotely on Zoom in the morning, before breaking up into smaller meetings. Then small tours led by student volunteers were held at the high school throughout the day.
Rather than having recruiting for student activities this week, Strong said a virtual activity fair will be held on Sept. 16, the first Wednesday when all students will learn remotely in the hybrid learning model.
“It was our creative solution in an unprecedented time to give the kids as much connectedness of the school as we can manage safely,” she said. “Masuk has always had a positive and strong school culture, not just because of our tremendous faculty, but because every generation of students participates in sharing our past values with the next generation of students coming in.”
Strong said a total of 240 freshmen and 100 volunteers from the higher grades are participating this week.
An afternoon tour
Lauren Breyan and Sara Leisawitz, both sophomores, led a group of freshmen on a tour of their new school. The group included Luke Eschert, Danny Curtin, Luke Dolio and Logan Orlando.
The girls took them down Hall A, which includes classrooms for music, choir and band.
As they walked passed the video and weight rooms on their way to the pool, Leisawitz turned to the boys and said, “in gym you could be in a class with juniors and sophomores.”
After seeing the pool, they walked to the lockerrooms downstairs. The group went through the gym, where the floors were gleaming.
The next stop was Pupil Services. “Which guidance counselors do you have?” Breyan asked the four boys. “It’s on your sheet. If you have want to talk to someone or switch a class, you can talk to someone in there.”
“Yeah, they’re very helpful,” Leisawitz added.
Before entering the office, Breyan gestured toward the row of glass doors at one end of the lobby. “There’s the main entrance,” she said. “It’s easy to learn where everything is, I think.”
“You’ll learn it quickly,” Leisawitz assured them.
Counselors Tricia Pagel and Beth Young came out to greet the incoming students. “Welcome to Masuk,” Pagel said. “Stop by any time.”
The tour continued to the Spanish, art, robotics and health rooms and passed J Hall, where the math classrooms are. Breyan and Leisawitz asked the younger students who their teachers are.
In the library a hand sanitizer station was set up by the book return area and plastic divider screens were set up on all of the tables.
Next, the sophomores brought the boys to their lockers and had them practice their combinations to open them.
“I don’t use my locker much,” Breyan said. “I carry everything around in my backpack.”
She and Leisawitz smiled, while agreeing their backs could sometimes be sore from lugging their backpacks around all day.
“Besides,” Leisawitz said, “you’re only in real school twice a week.”
Students will be broken up into groups A and B, depending on the first letter of their last names. Group A will go to school on Mondays and Tuesdays, while Group B learns remotely from home, then it will switch on Thursdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays everyone will learn remotely.
Seeing friends again
After walking through Masuk’s halls, Luke Eschert appeared to feel comfortable about his first day.
“I think at first I might be a little confused, but overall it will be good,” he said. “It will be good to be with my friends again and be able to talk in person.”
Eschert, who wore a Masuk football T-shirt and a black mask with a Panthers’ logo, hopes to play high school football this year, but there is uncertainty because of the coronavirus and he has heard talk of a possible six-game-season.
Breyan and Leisawitz expect hybrid learning to be a challenge.
“I think it’s going to be very difficult to do in-home learning,” Leisawitz said.
In the last three months of last year, Breyan said educators had to quickly come up with a remote lesson plan. But this year there was more planning, so she expects “a little more instruction.”
“It’s going to be good to be back to our normal routine,” she said, “even though we won’t be in class every day.”