ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s largest school district is returning to the classroom for the first time in more than a year on Monday. Albuquerque Public Schools says they’ve waited a long time for this moment but the district says this week will still take a lot of adjusting.
Students laughing, footsteps into the building, and backpacks opening up are all sounds APS says they’ve missed. However, Monday morning, they were gladly welcomed back.
“This feels so good. This, this is awesome,” said Scott Elder, superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools. “It’s good to see the students again. It’s really good.”
Monday morning, students at Cleveland Middle School were ready for their first day back in person. Most tell us they are nervous and excited. Some, involved in extracurriculars, tell us they’re ready to meet in person again.
“I know it’s going to be really different,” said Elizabeth Yable, a student at Cleveland Middle School. “The halls are one-way now so there’s arrows on the floor we have to follow, and I haven’t been to any of my classes yet so it’s going to be different.”
“I’m very excited for that,” said Juliette Nagel, a student involved with Cleveland Middle School’s music program. “It’s been a while since I’ve been able to hear anyone else’s sound but my own.”
Many parents and guardians were at the school’s drop-off in the morning. Some say they’re more excited than their kids.
“She’s going to be going to high school next year and she needs to get back in class and see what that’s like and end eighth grade in a good way,” said Theresa Minto, whose granddaughter attends Cleveland Middle School. “I think just seeing all her teachers and her friends again. Being out for a whole year, has just been devastating for her. Now that she’s back, even though it’s going to be a month and a half, it’s very exciting.”
Schools will have updated safety measures, including lining up outside before heading in, one-way hallways, off-limits drinking fountains and frequently-cleaned classrooms. Inside the class, students are spaced apart. The number of students returning varies, but some schools are expecting at least half to come back.
“We anticipate about half of our students remaining remote and half of our students coming back to full-person, in-person learning,” said Marisol Fraga, principal of Cleveland Middle School. “We are prepared, we’ve been working very hard. Our teachers are working very hard to make sure that students feel safe and that they’re ready and excited to be on campus.”
The district tells us the state’s push to get teachers and staff vaccinated before reopening did help ahead of staffing classrooms. Vaccines were even offered to some outside the school this morning.
“To our understanding, everyone who wanted a vaccine received one,” said Elder. “That’s been for a couple weeks so we’re in good shape as far as that goes.”
Elder says this week is all about building routines for students and staff. They hope as they adjust, things will become more comfortable.
“The first day of school is always fun and this one may have been a little more emotional just because it’s been harder to get to this point,” said Elder. “I think everybody’s a little concerned about how it’s going to work, balancing the in-person students with the at-home students and I think this next week or two is going to be a bit of a journey of discovery on that, but we’ll get there.”
Elder says the district understands parents may want to keep their kids home for the rest of the school year. Still, as some return to class this week, they expect more families to follow suit.
APS says it won’t know exactly how many students have opted to return but will likely know later this week, though we’re hearing that number is likely higher at elementary schools than middle and high schools. The district is asking all families to decide by this Friday if their students will come back or stay home for the rest of the school year.
While buses are up and running, the district is asking parents to bring their kids to school for COVID-safety reasons, and should prepare for traffic during pick-up and drop-off times. APS says today, they ran all but three buses, covering 99-percent of routes.
However, one big hiccup on the first day back was some Wi-Fi problems at schools. Many students tell us they were not able to connect their laptops to Wi-Fi. The district tells us it was a failure in an internal network device and they are working to fix it. They say teachers who were hard-wired didn’t have trouble and neither did students learning from home.