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When Elizabeth School District students returned to in-person learning last August, it was unclear whether they would be able to continue the practice, as the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, with numbers of cases on the rise. But, according to Superintendent Douglas Bissonette, the district has kept the schools open for in-person learning so far.

“We’ve been in-person since August,” said Bissonette. “Fully in-person, not a hybrid model. The only exception was the week after Thanksgiving, when we had our high school go remote for one week. We have worked really hard to keep a safe learning environment, and the kids have been phenomenal about doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Bissonette and the district were featured on the Feb. 25 “Redefining Rural” podcast, which focused on the power of in-person learning. Members of the podcast interviewed Bissonette, students and faculty members from the district, and chronicled ESD’s approach to keeping schools open.

“I was so taken by the passion and the relationships of mutual support and respect that came with every person we talked to,” said Michelle Murphy, who is executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance, during the podcast.

Bissonette credits the schools’ success to dedicated students, staff and parents.

“Our parents have been exceptional,” said Bissonette. “They’ve kept their kids home for all the right reasons. I think students and families recognize that the accommodations they’re being asked to make are worth it overall for staying with in-person learning.”

Certain activities, including in-school assemblies and dances, remain suspended. Some sports have been allowed, but only competing against local teams. Bissonette said he looks forward to the day when schools can resume extracurricular activities.

“School assemblies are really missed,” said Bissonette. “They contribute a lot to the school spirit. I think the students miss that, and prom and some of the other extracurricular activities we just didn’t get to do this year.”