Schools look a little different this year than they usually do, but that didn’t dampen the excitement as students across Cullman County returned to the classroom for the first time since March.
Both Cullman City and Cullman County School Systems used a staggered schedule to begin the year, with students with last names beginning with A-K attending on Thursday and students with last names beginning with L-Z going on Friday.
Along with the usual procedures that they go through at the beginning of the school year, students are also learning some of the new COVID-19 guidelines that have been set by the state, and the staggered schedule is meant to give teachers and students time to familiarize themselves with those rules in a smaller group.
The Cullman County School System will be using a modified plan for at least the first nine weeks of the year, with students attending in person on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and working virtually on Wednesday.
After the split student population this week, the Cullman City School System will return to its regular schedule on Monday, with all students who opted to attend traditional school going Monday through Friday.
Preparing for this year has taken a lot of extra time and effort from everyone in the city school system, said Cullman City Schools Superintendent Susan Patterson.
“Our community, employees, parents and even the students have been supportive, working through these challenges,” she said in an email.
Patterson said school faculties around the system will carry out the safety precautions and routines designed to keep students safe, and they are looking forward to getting a little closer to normal next week.
“We are encouraged to believe that on Monday, all students will be in their chosen educational environment receiving the most effective instruction our teachers have always been known to give,” she said.
At Cullman City Primary School, the return to the classroom has been a smooth transition, said Principal Tricia Culpepper.
“It has been a wonderful first two days of school,” she said.
Culpepper credited the staggered schedule for making the beginning of the year easier, as it has allowed teachers, students and parents to get a better handle on the new procedures while also letting the teachers get to know their students better while in the smaller groups.
“It has gone really well,” she said. “We’re looking forward to having them all here Monday.”
For the school’s faculty, seeing students back in the school’s halls and classrooms for the first time since spring is a happy sight, Culpepper said.
“That’s what makes our school building what it is, is to have our students back,” she said. “That just makes school what it should look like.”
Kindergartners and first-graders are not required to wear masks, but Culpepper said they are being encouraged to wear them during certain parts of the day. For the most part, students have not had any issues following that or any of the other new procedures, and the school is offering more outdoor time to let them get out of the classroom for a bit, she said.
Even if their mouths are hidden behind their masks, the happy faces are still plain to see on the students and teachers in the halls of the school, Culpepper said.
“Everybody has smiles on behind their masks, that’s for sure,” she said.
Spirits were also high in the county’s schools, and the students and teachers at Holly Pond High School were all happy to be back in the classroom after such a long time away, said Media Specialist Melanie Hall.
“So far, we have had a wonderful start,” she said.
Those include things like staying to one side of the hall, maintaining social distancing and wearing their masks or face coverings, and so far, the students have followed the new rules without any complaints, Hall said.
“We were pleasantly surprised when the kids came back,” she said. “They were just great.”
Teachers are having to adjust to the new rules as well, and have a few new procedures like cleaning their classrooms between periods, they were just as happy to be back in the classroom as the students, Hall said.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “I have missed it so much and wanted so much for our kids to get to come back, and we’re praying that they can stay and that they won’t have to wear masks forever.”