By Shawn Chitnis

AGUILAR, Colo. (CBS4) – As one of the first school districts to return to in-person learning earlier this month, Aguilar School District leaders say they’re off to a successful start in their first three weeks. The superintendent says the united support from teachers and families along with the small student body is making their plan work.

(credit: CBS)

“It’s been one of the smoothest starts to the year we’ve had in a long, long time,” said Dr. Stacy Houser, superintendent of the school district. “What we’re doing is working so far.”

Starting their fourth week on Monday, there were no positive cases of COVID-19. The district purposely began in early August to create more breaks in the school year if they needed to close because of a coronavirus case. There is also a plan to close for two weeks if a large enough outbreak affects the campus.

“What jumped out at me immediately was parents who were willing to monitor their kids at home,” Houser told CBS4 Tuesday on a video conference call. “That’s what we wanted, that wasn’t necessarily what we expected but it’s what we hoped for.”

The small school district has around 100 students for all grades including pre-kindergarten to high school. Located about 30 minutes outside of Trinidad near the southern border of Colorado, the town is more than three hours south of Denver. All grades are located in one extended building of the campus.

RELATED: Aguilar Classrooms First To Reopen In Colorado: ‘We’re Confident’

“What we’re doing is being driven by a local community and that makes different options possible and more feasible,” he said. “We know that within our classrooms, we can social distance- period.”

(credit: CBS)

While parents were eager to get their students back to school when CBS4 visited the district on the first day of school, they have assisted in helping avoid the possible spread of COVID-19. Parents have kept their children at home with minor symptoms, making sure they were checked out before returning to school.

The district added an additional bus route but managing transportation is easier compared to other larger districts, they currently operate two vans and one traditional school bus to help a third of their students. They are socially distanced unless children are from the same household and can sit together. Houser knows metro area districts have to take a different approach simply based on the number of families they serve.

“I think that school administrators, teachers, parents, students all have a concern with going back,” he said. “It makes it possible to do a lot of things because of the size of our classrooms and staffing.”

The district does use a hybrid model with cohorts like other districts trying to make in-person learning work in their area. Houser says younger students have done better than expected with masks, keeping them on in school and even wearing them during recess.

“School is such an important part of what it means to be normal and have a normal routine in life,” Houser said. “What we have done has worked very well for us, and I think that everybody has to find their own road to what they’re going to do that’s going to work well.”

(credit: CBS)

The superintendent says they will consider changes after a full month in the new school year, as early as September. He also added that staff are excited to have more breaks in the calendar that may not be needed for coronavirus cases but will create a mental and physical break from the classroom. He hopes the community around his district can achieve some form of the normalcy they crave around the start of school.

“The butterflies that I was feeling on the first day have gone, I’m thinking this is going to be a good year,” he said. “It’s not going to be a normal year by any stretch of the imagination.”

Shawn Chitnis

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