REFUGIO – Overcoming challenges in distance learning while preparing for the return of students to return to the three Refugio Independent School District campuses were topics that RISD administrators recently presented to the school board.

“I want to give huge kudos to the Refugio Elementary School staff,” said RES Principal Twyla Thomas. “The whole crew has been working nonstop for the start of school. There was a lot of fear and stress because of the unknown, but they have done a phenomenal job preparing.”

She said school started on Aug. 24 with a remote learning format for most students, but that 20 special education students have been coming to campus.

“The kids are all wearing masks or face shields and we haven’t had any issues,” Thomas said. “Several teachers have told me that things are going well — better than expected.”

One wing of the elementary in which teachers are working has had some technical issues, Thomas said, adding that things have improved.

Teachers, students and parents have expressed enthusiasm for face-to-face instruction in the near future, Thomas said.

“The best way for students to learn, especially at the elementary level, is in person,” she said.

At the elementary level, she is recommending to the school board that each grade has a specific day for teachers to work with students about proper procedures and social distancing.

“I believe this should be done one grade level at a time with their own day to go over the procedures so they are fully prepared before everyone comes back,” Thomas said.

This will start on Sept. 10 with fifth-graders returning to campus.

“We will bring them back on grade level at a time starting with the oldest and working our way down to pre-K,” Thomas said.

New Refugio Junior High Principal Chris Hawthorne said her campus has had a smooth start so far, also with mostly distance learning.

“Everybody has done really well, and we have not had the problems we were anticipating,” she said. “Some classes have had 100 percent participation until a student or two would drop offline, but we found these problems were internet issues.

“The students are really doing quality work, too.”

The junior high is also planning to bring smaller groups to campus for orientation sessions before the whole student body returns. Six special ed students are among those who have already returned to campus.

“We’ll have each grade level come back for a couple of days where it’s just them, and the teachers are comfortable with the plan to bring them back on a staggered schedule. We are going to do it in small steps,” Hawthorne said.

“I think they’re ready and some of the parents will flat out tell you that they’re ready for the kids to go back, too. The kids are doing about as well as they can do. It’s hard to keep them interested online for prolonged times.”

Refugio High School Brandon Duncan said school started Aug. 24, and in addition to online instruction “we’ve already had volleyball and football games, so we’re rocking along.”

During the transition phase for the first few weeks of school “the plan is not to bring any large groups back. Currently we have some small groups or individual students (on campus).”

Because of a high participation in athletics, many students have already been back on campus for workouts even during the summer, and the band is coming up to the school to practice after school.

Two of the classes which will need to move back to campus as soon as possible are ag and welding, Duncan said.

“They are not on campus yet but when we get the shops ready we’ll have to bring them back,” Duncan said. “It’s hard to do welding when you don’t have welding equipment at home.”

Some special ed students are already back on campus, and time slots are arranged for another eight students who don’t have access to the internet at home to visit the school.

“The first week went relatively well but we did have technical issues,” Duncan said. “Some of them were small and we’ve fixed and some of them we are still working on.”

Superintendent Melissa Gonzales said in a survey sent to all RISD staff members, 74 percent responded that they are comfortable returning to campus on or before Sept. 21.

In other action, the school board approved a 2 percent salary increase for the district’s campus principals and assistant principal. This will cost the district a total of $9,524.11.

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