March 6, 2021 — Mapleton staff members lined the high school entrance next to the iconic blue anchor. Conversation flowed about their excitement for the day — March 3 — when juniors and seniors could return to campus after nearly a year of comprehensive distance learning and limited in-person instruction.
Cheers erupted as the first student walked up.
As if there wasn’t enough joy for one day, a special guest also made an appearance. Salty the Sailor, Mapleton’s long-time mascot, handed each student a navy-blue mask adorned with white anchors.
“That was very special for Salty to welcome our juniors and seniors back. It was special for the people who donated the costume, and it was special for the person in the costume. You could tell none of the kids had ever seen it and none of the staff had seen it,” said Mapleton Superintendent Jodi O’Mara.
Salty also made an appearance at Mapleton Elementary, where students have been back on campus since Feb. 10.
Once the juniors and seniors arrived, students were ushered into the gym, where they sat six feet apart. Their places were marked with stickers saying, “Anchor Here.”
Teachers and staff got the chance to greet the students as O’Mara and Principal Brenda Moyer gave a presentation on how the school year will look now that students are actively on campus for a full day of education.
“We brought you back first because, whether you like it or not, you are leaders of the school,” O’Mara told the juniors and seniors, who together make up one 19-person cohort. “The middle schoolers, freshmen and sophomores look up to see what you're doing, and they mimic and model that.”
Working with the older students will also allow the campus to go over the safety measures in place to prevent exposure to COVID-19. These include wearing a mask at all times, except for during designated mask breaks; washing hands often; and remaining in assigned cohorts.
Mapleton High School has posted reminders of these rules in the hallways, along with traffic dividers and hand sanitizing stations. The bathrooms are also single-occupancy and clearly labeled with one cohort each. Drinking fountains are still available, but only the water bottle filling stations can be accessed.
As O’Mara said, “All the little things that need to happen to so we can get people back.”
After teacher Louis Burruss did a demonstration of the proper way to wear masks, the administrators talked to the students about what a school day will look like. Students have been assigned homerooms, where they have a bin to hold their belongings.
“In order for us to get all of our kids on campus, we have assigned grade levels to classrooms. So, while our 11th and 12th graders are one cohort, there's an 11th grade classroom and a 12th grade classroom. And then the teachers are moving to the classrooms to teach,” O’Mara said.
She later explained that teachers and staff have had to adapt, with several of them sharing wide open rooms as combined office spaces. This all works together to make sure there are enough designated classrooms.
“The teachers and staff have been amazing,” O’Mara said. “It's not ideal to have teachers moving between classrooms, but we worked hard to make sure they taught the same class in the same classroom. For us to be able to get all kids on campus, that's what had to happen.”
The teachers have rolling carts to help move their materials back and forth.
“We also are so thankful that we had our remodel with the bond we passed, because we have a brand-new HVAC unit, so ventilation is not an issue,” O’Mara said.
With new windows and external doors outside most classrooms, airflow has been increased.
The school district has been able to rearrange things as needed, adapting spaces to allow for maximum distance and limiting exposure. One of those changes is converting a space into an isolation room with its own entrance. This is where people will go if they exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 while on campus.
“Please make sure if you have any signs of COVID — fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or you lose your taste and smell — stay home. If it's at school, you let staff know immediately,” O’Mara said.
Mapleton juniors and seniors join grades one through six in their return to campus.
“It's been really great at the elementary,” O’Mara said. “They're getting into the routine. You know, it's hard. It's tough. But staff are happy, kids are happy.”
Even the kindergarteners, where this has been their first experience in school, have adapted to the masks and social distance. It helps that many were able to attend in-person preschool for part of last year.
“Primary [school] kiddos have a hard enough time with spatial reasoning and body awareness, so the six-foot distance is really tough. In fact, we just tell them to stretch out their arms and fingers and keep that distance,” O’Mara said.
By bringing back the oldest high schoolers early, the district hopes to set up a routine for the rest of the school.
“We brought our 11th and 12th graders in first because first of all, they're the closest to graduating. They need support and we need them on campus to be able to do what we need to do for seniors to ensure they graduate, get scholarships, have life plans, things like that,” O’Mara said. “I was really honest when I told them, they are our leaders.”
Next, the ninth and 10th grade students will return to campus on March 10, followed by the middle schoolers on March 15.
“You can feel the energy,” O’Mara said while walking the halls. “Even just yesterday as we were putting these (barriers and signs) up, training staff and talking about it all, the energy level has been so cool. … All the hard work of Zoom, Google Classroom, meetings, virtual instruction, all the screens with black boxes and names on them — now they're becoming faces. And that's what we need, and this is what we were waiting for — our kids back on campus.”
For more information, visit mapleton.k12.or.us.