As students rushed out of Iroquois Middle School Wednesday afternoon one thing was evident – students were happy to be back to school in person.
Many of the kids hung out with their friends, masks on, chatting as they waited for buses. One girl waved to her friend as she departed on the bus.
“Things went very well,” said Principal Vicki Wyld. “I think the excitement from the kids was in the atmosphere.”
Niskayuna was one of the first school districts in the Capital Region to start Wednesday. Many others do not begin until next week.
“Our calendar for the year, including starting today, is based on meeting the state required number of instructional days given the holidays and recesses that are part of the school calendar and the need to make sure that we have some snow/emergency days built into the calendar,” said Matt Leon, a spokesperson for the district.
Wednesday was also the first day of seeing how kids would once again adjust to wearing masks indoors – a mandate for all in schools across the state.
By all accounts there were no issues.
“Everyone did a good job with all of the rules,” Wyld said.
Sixth-grader Leo Egnaczyk said he didn’t care about wearing the mask as long as it meant he could see his friends.
He exclaimed to his mom in the car that the first day was “awesome.”
Mom Koren Egnaczyk said the first day of school was a bit tough, with her daughter Lily going into second grade after having spent all of first grade doing virtual learning.
“It was an emotional day because of it,” Egnaczyk said, noting she spent the day cleaning to keep herself busy.
This year less than 1% of students in the district are participating in virtual learning.
“Last year at this time we had between 15% and 18% of students in an all-virtual program, including 365 students in our K-5 Virtual Academy,” Leon said.
Mom Amy Hebbard said her sons Tyler and Carter, who are in sixth and eighth grades, respectively, didn’t mind the masks either.
“They did masks last year and they know it’s for their own good,” she said.
Hebbard also said she supported the idea of mandating vaccines for teachers.
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday said she would mandate vaccines for teachers if she had the authority.
Wyld said her staff has been very open to getting vaccinated, noting that teachers and staff understand that “we as adults need to do the best that we can to protect them as well as ourselves.”
Sixth-grade and special education teacher Heather Miller said the teachers union should at least be open to a conversation about mandating vaccines or announcing avenues, like testing, for teachers to take who don’t want to be vaccinated.
“As soon as I found out we could get vaccinated I got it,” she said.
The district is going to conduct pooled testing of 20% of the unvaccinated student and staff population per week, according to reopening plans.
Parent Ryan Weisse said he didn’t support a vaccine mandate for teachers but did fully support the mask mandate. Weisee said he just moved to Niskayuna with his son, seventh-grader Donovan, from Ohio and the rules were similar for schools.
“He had to wear it all last year,” Weisse said.
Miller said it’s become second nature for kids.
While masks weren’t an issue the first day, arrival and departure time was something Wyld said the school had to get used to again. Because of COVID and a hybrid model last year the school was able to use next door Rosendale Elementary’s parking lot for drop off and pick up. But with kids back in school the parking lot is used more and there are times where kids may be out for recess. That meant parents and buses were back in the same small parking lot for Iroquois Middle School.
Wyld also said more parents were picking up and dropping off their kids. However, she said those kinks should work themselves out over the first few days.
As for the first day of classes it was all about easing kids back in, Miller said.
She said sixth-graders didn’t get the traditional opportunity to have tours before school started where they could find their way around and check out their locker. The first day was spent doing many of those things.
“We’re taking things slow and building relationships,” Miller said.
Contact Shenandoah Briere at [email protected].
The Office of Mental Health has released videos for parents as they ease back into schools reopening. They can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLr56qcghZ6EpCAkrhNNlZigkmocyXkEse