For Rachel Constantinescu, the environment of Press Elementary is “joyful.”
“You walk in our building and you can just feel that buzz of learning again, whether it's in a virtual classroom or whether it's in an in-person classroom,” Constantinescu, the school’s principal, said.
After months of planning, McKinney ISD began its first day of in-person instruction on Sept. 3. The district’s return to in-person learning comes with protocols and precautions peppered into the regular school day as the school year moves forward in the wake of a global pandemic.
For Constantinescu, having students in the building again completes a puzzle that had been missing its final piece.
“There was this sense that we were incomplete without having students in our building,” she said, “and so of course, our teachers were just doing everything they could to create relationships through Zoom and through the experiences they were providing in virtual learning.”
In the runup to the start of in-person learning, MISD shared steps students could take before returning to school. The tips included buying a thermometer and practicing taking a mask on and off, and practicing maintaining a 6-foot distance.
Schools also faced their own preparations. Constantinescu said Press Elementary was looking to balance what was safe for students and staff while maintaining the educational experience families are used to.
“Now, to see that play out and say, ‘This really is working. We really are educating kids, we're really creating a social experience, an academic experience for them, but also keeping them safe with the current recommendations,’ was exciting to see happen,” she said.
But the return to in-person learning doesn’t mean the planning ends. Constantinescu describes bi-weekly meetings that allow the school to discuss what is currently in place, what is working and what might need to be adjusted as they look at numbers for the school and city.
She said one of the toughest parts about the return to in-person learning was that everybody has a different tolerance for risk.
“Everyone has different things that they bring to the table, too, as far as their own experiences or concerns or also ability to navigate stress,” she said.
There’s also the matter of taking in what multiple stakeholders have to say and considering how to best accommodate what perspectives a parent, student or staff member might have.
“And everyone's not going to agree on everything we do, absolutely understand that,” Constantinescu said. “But we appreciate that they were still supportive knowing that this is a different time in education, and so we were doing the best we can.”