'My heart was happy all day': Lee students return to class for in-person learning

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LEE — Lee Elementary School Principal Kate Retzel was worried that students would not enjoy opening day on Wednesday.

Retzel felt the rules about wearing of masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing added to the student handbook might take the fun out of the youngsters seeing their classmates and favorite teachers for the first time in six months.

But the students' arrival before the first bell allayed Retzel's fears.

"The cloud of planning [to reopen] lifted when we saw the kids' faces," she said. "At recess, the kids were jumping and laughing as always. My heart was happy all day."

Lee Middle and High School Principal Gregg Brighenti had a big smile on his face when an Eagle reporter asked him Wednesday afternoon how the seventh- through 12th-grade students adjusted to the pandemic protocols in place.

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"It's been an awesome day," he said. "Our first week back will set the tone for the [school] year."

Public schools across Massachusetts had been shuttered since the coronavirus outbreak hit in mid-March. State officials last month allowed in-person learning to resume as of Sept. 16.

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The 2020-21 academic year in the Lee Public Schools begins with most students spending two to three days a week in the classroom.

Under a hybrid model adopted Aug. 11 by the Lee School Committee, two groups of students in grades three through 12 will alternate days for in-person learning. On other days, students will complete online assignments at home. Special education and kindergarten through second-grade students will attend school in-person daily. Families that opted out of the hybrid model will receive virtual instruction through a third-party vendor — one specifically for the elementary students in grades three through six, and another for grades seven through 12.

Retzel said only two students showed up who were scheduled to learn remotely on Wednesday. "I was surprised it was only two," she said.

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School district administrators and staff spent most the summer making the buildings and class schedules as pandemic-proof as possible.

Brighenti knew the planning had immediately paid off when he looked toward the student parking area from the football field during an outdoor morning assembly.

"We asked students driving to school to space their cars for social distance and when I looked, every car had two spaces between them. I said [to myself], `This is going to work out great,'" he said.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.


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