DAMASCUS, PA — The first day of school can be a nerve-wracking experience for students and school faculty alike. Coupled with an ongoing health crisis, those fears can be amplified. Around this …
DAMASCUS, PA — The first day of school can be a nerve-wracking experience for students and school faculty alike. Coupled with an ongoing health crisis, those fears can be amplified. Around this time last year, Wayne Highlands administrators started to look ahead at the upcoming school year, hoping to return to in-person instruction in some form or another. David Jagger, Damascus principal, knew that the feat would be challenging, but not unachievable.
“Of course, we thought it was possible,” he said.
“I think we proved over the course of last year, for the most part, that we were able to do all the things necessary from a health and safety perspective to protect our students and staff. It wasn’t easy, but for the large majority of our students, we were able to have a very successful school year. We can’t call it normal, but we’ll call it successful.”
There were a few starts and stops to the 2020-2021 school year, like the brief period of remote learning from the week before Christmas to Martin Luther King Day, but for the most part it ran successfully, he said.
Students at Damascus, along with the other institutions in Wayne Highlands, were offered three options the previous year when it came to returning to school. They were traditional in-person learning, Wayne Highlands Live (learning at home with your teachers, plus virtual learning) and Wayne Highlands Virtual Campus (an online education program).
Overwhelmingly, the majority of students elected to attend school in person.
“Somewhere between 80 and 90 percent spent almost all of the year here at school, obviously aside from a quarantine or aside from the month that we were home on remote learning, the overwhelming majority were here,” said Jagger.
Last year, most classes ran with some changes. Some lessons were recorded for those attending at home. Projects for art class focused on things that could easily be found at home, and gym class centered around smaller groups.
Guidance counselor Amy Gries was able to formulate lesson plans around what her students were experiencing.
“Sometimes we find with students, if they’re struggling with something, sometimes it helps them to realize, ‘Hey, I’m not the only one who’s dealing with this,’” she said. “We found a lot of times that we start talking about a topic in class and you might hear another student or three or five say, ‘I’m dealing with that too.’”
Jagger stated that a lot of the kids, old and young, adjusted quite well to their new learning environment. For kindergartners, wearing a mask and cleaning up after themselves became part of their normal routine like lining up after recess or keeping quiet in the hallways. The older kids embraced the technological aspects of their new learning model.
Faculty and staff learned important lessons right alongside the students.
“I learned very much that our people that are our staff, our students, our families and all of our schoolteachers and personnel can do hard things and that we rally around each other. We’ve had many difficult moments or the course of the last 18 months, but we’re coming out of that with even a stronger resolve,” said Jagger.
This year, things will look relatively the same, save a few changes.
Damascus will be getting rid of its Wayne Highlands Live learning model in favor of in-person education. Social distancing guidelines will still be in place and extra time will be allotted for breaks. Masking will be optional, but it is strongly encouraged.
Jagger hopes for a return to afterschool activities like sports and student council. There are also plans to raise the curtain once again for the school’s drama program.
“We do a good, good job here at Damascus of providing an outstanding education, and we look forward to continuing that,” said Jagger.
The school is slated to open on August 30.