Calm and quiet is the last word to describe most First Days of School in Chelsea over the years.
The schoolyards and courtyard and entrances to almost every school on a normal year would be brimming with activity – exciting kids screaming and parents speaking scores of different languages to each other as they caught up on news of the summer.
There would be sliding down the slide.
There would be games of tag.
There would be lines to squeeze into the front door and head off to the first day of the new classroom.
None of that was in play on Wednesday morning as the school term started. It was calm and quiet. The schoolyard was empty, the slide was fenced off and had a ‘No Trespassing’ sign on it, and the corridors of the schools were empty.
But there was an excitement somewhere in the air and a gratitude from the multitudes that could only be heard in front of a computer screen as thousands of Chelsea Public School students logged on to their first day of remote learning – a day defined by the continued COVID-19 stranglehold gripping the city and the nation in 2020.
“There’s a fair amount of relief because there was so much that went into getting ready for this first day of school,” said Supt. Almi Abeyta. “We’ve delivered ChromeBooks and had Trust visits and have prepared all summer intensely for this first day. Now it’s finally playing out, but it’s so different. I’ve been in education many years and not having the physical drop off and excitement out here is different. There is joy to be found though is seeing teachers reunite with kids – even remotely.”
That’s where this year’s theme of ‘Relentless Love’ comes in to the picture, she said.
“Our staff has worked so hard to prepare for today,” she said. “Our teachers have been so dedicated and creative in their craft. We are ready for school year 2020-2021. We’re exercising our theme for the year ‘Relentless Love!’”
The district has negotiated with the teacher’s union to require teachers to come into the buildings and teach from their classrooms two times a week, but several teachers have a preference of being in the classroom instead of at home.
One of them on Wednesday was Colleen Donovan, who has taught third grade at the Kelly School for eight years. Unlike any other first day, the opening bell rang and no one was in the classroom. Everyone was online though.
“Welcome third grade!” she said with a huge smile as she waved to a tic-tac-toe board of students on the Zoom class.
In the music room, Kelly Music Teacher Rebecca Vinci chose to teach from the school as she lives nearby and has her preferred setup of musical instruments and a piano at the school. She said teaching this year is going to be challenging and require innovation.
She said she plans to make music class very active as she worries about the kids sitting in front of a screen too much.
“The kids are going to be on the screen a lot so I want them to get up and move and be active when they make music,” she said. “We’ll be doing a lot of body percussion and singing and dancing.”
She said she is even working towards getting the beloved annual musical up and running and in place for an online performance. That, like other things, is going to take some more planning.
“There are a lot of things I’m still working on,” she said. “I still have to figure out how to do band, but we have some time.”