In her time as Norton Elementary School principal, Kelly Grillo has seen a lot of things, but she hasn’t experienced what transpired on Feb. 2. Traditionally, when a snow day is declared, faculty members have a day off from instruction, but since students are learning remotely during the pandemic, the teachers adjusted to educating virtually.
“It went well,” said Grillo. “One teacher said that this is the first day that she can see people’s faces. I think we take that for granted today because people wear masks.”
In reflection, Grillo feels that her staff has made a lot of progress in adjusting to changes over the last year.
“At the beginning, our personnel was struggling with morale,” stated Grillo. “I gave them this analogy of a ship in the water. It doesn’t seem like you are moving, but when you look to see the view, you can see that you’ve come a long way.”
While facing a learning curve, Grillo proudly says that the faculty has weathered the storm and striven to get better as educators.
“They work constantly and use their own time and energy to help the students,” explained Grillo. “Our teachers and structural assistants have been remarkable.”
Like all of the schools in Cheshire, Norton has put new procedures in place to protect everyone in the building.
“We started outside with a tent for lunch, but we’ve now gone into the gym to be able to space everyone out better,” stated Grillo. “We have also set desks apart for social distancing.”
Since last September, Grillo can recall only a handful of positive cases of COVID-19.
“While we can’t prove it, we don’t think that those people became invected during school,” stated Grillo. “We have taken measures to quarantine positive cases and close contacts.”
Throughout the year, Grillo credits the students for being resilient and compliant in following rules such as wearing masks during the school day.
“It is amazing. The kids are troopers,” said Grillo. “Sometimes, you need to remind a child to wear the mask properly. We also have mask breaks during the day to allow the kids to go outside and get fresh air.”
Along with educating children in classrooms, Grillo estimates that 15 to 20%t of the student body is learning remotely.
“The number fluctuates since you have temporary remote kids who are close contacts or have been infected (with the virus),” stated Grillo. “By the end of the month, parents are allowed to let us know if they want to make a change between in-person or remote. If a kid comes back to school, we need to get a desk and materials for them.”
Due to the pandemic, Norton has had to cancel activities like the traditional sixth grade team bonding trip, but the faculty has adjusted to hold other events in a different way.
Band, choral, and orchestra activities are being run virtually, as well as town meetings and professional development workshops.
“We’ll have to see in the spring if we can have field days,” added Grillo.
While the pandemic has brought countless challenges, Grillo feels that Norton will take great tools from this experience. For example, she referenced how parents are now attending meetings through Google Meet.
“It is so much more efficient now. Instead of having to take off two hours in the middle of the day, it may only be an hour for people,” Grillo explained. “We are also using Jamboard (interactive whiteboard system) now and that is never going away.”
With COVID-19 vaccines becoming more accessible in Connecticut, the positivity rate is trending down of late, but if there should be an outbreak, Grillo trusts Chesprocott Health District to keep the Cheshire community informed.
“They are on top of everything,” said Grillo. “We are in touch with them on a regular basis. They are very capable of making decisions.”
By the fall, Grillo hopes to have all of her students back full-time.
“By now, I know that we were taking the old days for granted, like a faculty meeting with our staff. Before the holidays, I usually make pancakes for breakfast with the faculty and I miss that (tradition),” explained Grillo. “I think we will appreciate the little things when we are all back together.”