Cherry Creek schools reopen to enthusiasm, caution on first week back

1st day sees excited faces, faith in district’s safety policies

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School officials spent the months leading up to the 2020-21 school year fretting over details of safety precautions and weighing competing concerns over opening in-person classes and keeping kids home.

But when the first day of school came — with in-person class allowed — students walked through the doors looking forward to savoring the aspects of life they missed for the past five months.

Jill Snider’s daughter Bailey “could not wait” to come back to Walnut Hills Elementary School, Snider said.

“She just wanted to be with friends — she did not want to do online,” Snider, 49, said. “She wanted to see the teachers. She was all about being social after five months.”

On Aug. 17, fifth-graders’ first day back at Walnut Hills in Centennial, Katie Duke and Cathy Chavez dropped off twin fifth-graders who looked forward to seeing friends. Duke wasn’t worried at all, she said, about safety in the school.

“I think they worked really hard,” Chavez said about school officials crafting precautions to guard against the spread of coronavirus.

Cherry Creek School District assembled a laundry list of new protocols for schools to stay safe, from older students using backpacks instead of lockers to younger students having assigned supplies, according to the district’s plans this summer.

That includes requiring masks, a rule that will be managed in a “developmentally appropriate manner” for elementary students, the district has said.

The district opted for a “blended” plan for grades six through 12 that puts half of students in school Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with the other half attending Thursday and Friday.

The youngest students — those in pre-kindergarten up to fifth grade — will attend school five days per week. The district also made online class an option for all K-12 students, with a new online program available for grades K-5.

Across town in the east Centennial area, seventh-grader Nathen Ball walked on Aug. 18 to Laredo Middle School. Different grades returned to school on different days the week of Aug. 17, which was organized as a “phase-in week” in which students could come to school to practice new routines, and staff and students could begin to develop relationships, prior to the full start of school.

On Ball’s mind: “Seeing all the friends that I haven’t seen in five months and seeing old teachers that I used to hang out a lot with.”

He isn’t preoccupied with the virus, worrying more about how his friends and family members are doing in general, he said.

Ball doesn’t mind the mask-wearing and other social-distancing protocols.

“I think it doesn’t really matter as long as we’re 6 feet apart, and just to be safe, wear a mask, but don’t have it on 24/7,” Ball said.

A short while earlier, Alex Ford and Isaac Kwon walked nearby to Smoky Hill High School on their first day of school as freshmen.

Ford carried his French horn, and Kwon his violin. Ford looked forward to meeting new people, and Kwon looked forward to a new school.

Ford’s friends talk about the virus, but they aren’t too worried, Ford said, pointing out that students will still play sports.

“I don’t know how long school will last,” Ford said, noting the possibility of future school closures due to COVID-19 cases. “It might not be as big a deal if everyone wears a mask.”

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