Florida Keys charter schools welcome students back

By JIM McCARTHY and MANDY MILES

School is in full swing throughout the Keys. While a number of students remain home on their laptops, others are being welcomed back into the classroom. 

Treasure Village Montessori

Donning masks, 150 students entered through the doors at Treasure Village Montessori in Islamorada for their first day of school on Aug. 31. With much excitement surrounding the new year, the atmosphere and feel is a bit different, with new measures in place to keep children and staff safe through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

Inside the facility, clear partitions are placed at desks and picnic tables to keep elementary and middle school students safe when they’re close to each other. As for the little tykes room, hoops are placed on the floor for sufficient distancing during circle time.  

Hallway floors are stickered with messages to keep 6 feet apart, and hand sanitizer stations in each classroom aim to keep germs at bay. 

Principal Kelly Mangel is eager to welcome students back to the classroom. Creating a safe and secure environment and maintaining functionality at the school are top priorities for TVM and Mangel. 

“I can’t wait to get creative when it comes to greeting each other and talking to them about how we can still see smiling even though they can’t see the smile,” Mangel said. “It’ll be fun and It’s going to be engaging, a little different.”

From their home classrooms, students are split into groups of seven to eight. With individual work space designated for students, TVM still allows for movement and hands-on learning in the classroom.  

“On this campus, we don’t utilize textbooks other than math,” Mangel said. “Even in middle school, all labs are hands-on, and that was important for us to maintain that. We have some barriers within the lab tables. Students will be required to wear masks and disinfect when they’re done.”

With 150 students back in class at TVM, Mangel said there are also 70 to 80 students who are participating virtually. She said she anticipates more parents will sign their children up for in-person instruction in the next quarter and semester. 

“The goal is to have all 220 students on campus when we return from winter break,” Mangel said. 

KEY WEST

Key West Mayor Teri Johnston speaks virtually to Somerset Island Prep students in Key West on Aug. 28. Students began returning in person on Aug. 31. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

Somerset island Prep

In Key West, new technology at Somerset Island Prep has enabled students to return to the physical campus two days a week starting Aug. 31.

“We’re beyond excited about our ‘classroom of the future’ at Island Prep,” said headmaster Nick Wright. “As teachers, we can interact with students both in the classroom and in their own living room at the same time. We can ask them questions, check their progress, and they can even chat and pass notes with each other – it’s as close to the high school we all remember as we can get these days.”

Wright added that the technology provides enhanced school-choice options to students throughout the Florida Keys. “Now we can also work with students in Key Largo, Marathon and the Lower Keys,” Wright said.

Principal Tom Rompella said the school’s leaders understand that “circumstances and philosophies exist within many families which surpass the concerns of infection.  Students facing abuse, food uncertainty, homelessness, lack of internet capabilities, an unstable home environment or any number of situations may require physical attendance in school to enjoy a safe educational environment.”

“Instruction and assignments for both ‘remote live’ students and ‘physically present’ students will be simultaneous and identical,” Rompella said, adding that parents of students attending school physically must sign a liability waiver acknowledging the risks of attendance and complete a survey about their individual circumstances.

Students attending in person must also have their own transportation to school, as buses from the school district are not yet available. 

Island Prep has implemented enhanced safety measures such as wellness checks, face coverings, enhanced cleaning of high-contact areas, social distancing, reduced capacity and frequent handwashing. 

May Sands Montessori

Classes began Aug. 31 at May Sands Montessori in Key West, where 16 of the school’s 90 students returned to the physical campus for the first day.

“We have limited on-campus instruction available, having followed the school district’s instructions that we assess our student population and measured our available square footage,” principal Lynn Barras said. 

The school identified students whose parents have to work outside the home, or whose home situation isn’t necessarily a stable learning environment.

“We did have some students come in the first day, but then opt to continue remotely due to the face mask requirement on campus,” Barras said, adding that May Sands Montessori, like the rest of the public schools in the county, are “aiming for a Sept. 14 full return to campus, but that will obviously depend on what’s happening with the numbers and whether we’re continuing to do what we have to with regard to social distancing, masks and hand-washing.”

Sigsbee Charter School in Key West is managing its initial virtual instruction by meeting with individual parents and students to address concerns and answer technology questions. CONTRIBUTED

Sigsbee Charter School

Sigsbee Charter School started classes remotely on Aug. 17 with the first two days dedicated to orientation and technology assistance getting students logged into their virtual learning platforms, according to the school’s website and blog posts.

The charter school’s teachers each sent emails to families to schedule individual conferences to give each student “an opportunity to have the teacher’s undivided attention before launching into a full day of whole group classes,” principal Eli Jannes wrote. “These check-ins were created to replicate the individual attention that we make sure to offer each child in a typical year and especially in the first days.  We hope this ‘soft start’ will make every child more comfortable with our unusual first day of school.”

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