MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Mahopac students began returning to school last week for fulltime in-person learning but it won’t be the same environment they remember from before the pandemic struck.

Interim Superintendent Frank Miele, who is stepping in for Anthony DiCarlo, who is out on medical leave, said that when he arrived administrators had been working hard on a plan to bring the kids back safely.

“They had laid out a plan during some troubling times that I think is unbelievable,” Miele said during the district’s online program, Spotlight on Mahopac Schools. “The things I see our school district doing are unbelievable. Everything has been done as proficiently as possible. Everything has been done with the safety of our students and staff in mind and I am so impressed.”

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Miele said the plan is fluid and the staff will adapt and change it when the need arises.

“We will have a lot of learning experiences, good and bad,” he said. “The things we will learn will help us decide what decisions we will make in June. We are still in a pandemic and I have to remind everyone to remain diligent as we make every effort to make this work. If we all work together, I think we have a chance to make this right. But this is a tentative plan and things can change tomorrow.”

Mike Tromblee, the assistant superintendent for curriculum, echoed Miele’s sentiments, noting that teachers have never been through anything like this and that administrators will listen closely to their advice and feedback to help the plan evolve when necessary.

“We have a learning plan in place and our teachers have been doing a fantastic job,” he said. “We have asked our teachers to shift toward a model that they were never trained for. They’ve learned how to adapt.”

Tromblee laid out the fundamentals of the plan as it applies to elementary, middle and high school.

“If you are an elementary student who is in-person, you will have your teacher. If you are a remote learner, you will have a minimum of two meets with your teacher per day and be provided extra supplemental meets.

“In the middle school, if you are an in-person learner, you will follow your normal schedule,” he continued.  “If you are a remote, you will follow the normal schedule as well as connecting through your Chromebook to your teacher’s class.”

He said high school students will follow a similar protocol.

“If you are an in-person learner, you will follow your regular schedule. If you are remote, you will follow your regular schedule by connecting remotely to your class with your teacher,” he said. “And we will continue to learn from our teachers—what is going well and what is a struggle.

“And I anticipate after we see how the reopening goes, we will talk to our teachers and see what they may need going forward,” he added. “We may see changes at that time if it is beneficial to improving the learning environment.”

“This has been a very tough time, especially in the social and emotional realm,” he said. “We invited all our students with IEPs (individual learning program) back and the first day went great and has continued.

“The challenge now is the social and emotional impact of prolonged instructional disruption,” he continued. “How do we manage that? How do we help students who are coming back, maybe for the first time since March (of last year)?”

Dr. Greg Stowell, the assistant superintendent for pupil personnel and educational services, noted that students will see some physical changes to their learning environments as they return. For example, the elementary schools will have dividers on every desk. In the secondary schools, face masks will be employed.

“They will be using face shields, but only in the area where they are in educational spaces where they can’t maintain 6-foot distances,” Stowell said. “They are not going to have to wear these face shields all the time.”

Tromblee said students will still have to complete their daily health screener, just as they did during the hybrid days.

“If you do fail, then you have to call in to your building attending officer and say, ‘We would still like to learn and will be connecting remotely,’” he said.

Tromblee said what is unique about the Mahopac School District is that each building has a different footprint, which can dictate the way the process will play out moving forward.

“So, we can’t necessarily give you every detail every day,” he said. “Our building leaders are working with staff to figure that out.”

Stowell said he hoped the return to fulltime in-person learning will make students feel more connected.

“We hope they have some sense of a return toward normalcy,” he said.

“I think once we get through this our students will be stronger, our staff will be stronger,” Miele added.