‘A slow transition’: Westhampton Elementary students, staff ease back into school with hybrid model

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  • Roland Madzunovic and his son Brennan, 3, wait for the start of classes on his first day of preschool Wednesday at Westhampton Elementary. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • William and Catherine Ady-Bell and their daughter, Vivian, 3, listen as Westhampton Elementary preschool teacher Deb Connell welcomes her class to the first day of school on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Westhampton Elementary Principal Deane Bates directs socially distanced fifth and sixth graders toward the dedicated entrances to their rooms on the first day of school on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Westhampton Elementary Principal Deane Bates talks with the Gazette on the first day of school on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Roland and Jen Madzunovic and their son Brennan, 3, wait for the start of classes on his first day of preschool at Westhampton Elementary School on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • William and Catherine Ady-Bell and their daughter, Vivian, 3, listen as Westhampton preschool teacher Deb Connell welcomes her class to the first day of school Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2020 2:58:01 PM

WESTHAMPTON — Students at Westhampton Elementary School returned for their first day of classes on Wednesday, kicking off the hybrid model that the school has chosen to adopt this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Once we get into a routine, I think things will go pretty smooth,” said Principal Deane Bates.

The students hadn’t been in the building since mid-March, when classes went remote through the end of last school year. Westhampton Elementary serves preschool through sixth grade students.

The students who came to school Wednesday are part of Group A, which normally will be at the school on Mondays and Tuesdays, with Wednesdays dedicated to remote learning. However, this week, Group A will be educated in school Wednesday, Group B will be in school Thursday, and Friday will be a remote learning day. In the coming weeks, students in Group B will be educated in person Thursdays and Fridays and do remote learning on Wednesdays. And students in both cohorts will be attending school for half-days through Oct. 2.

“I’m very comfortable with the hybrid model,” said parent Kim Garvey, standing outside of the school with her son Ryan, who is entering fourth grade.

“It’s a change of scenery from just sitting on screens all day,” Ryan said.

Roland and Jennifer Madzunovic were waiting with their son Brennan for his preschool class to start. Their son Mason also goes to Westhampton Elementary and is in first grade.

“I think that the school’s doing a great job,” said Jennifer Madzunovic. “They’ve definitely taken all precautions to make sure that everybody’s safe.”

Catherine Ady-Bell and William Ady-Bell are sending both their daughter Vivian to preschool and their son Sebastian to fourth grade at Westhampton Elementary.

Asked about the hybrid model, Catherine said that sending her kids back to school in person was a hard decision to make but that she didn’t want them to “miss out” knowing that some kids were going to be in the building. She also said that her daughter is excited to spend time with friends.

“She’s a socialite,” said William Ady-Bell.

Sarah Kalmakis also has two children attending Westhampton this fall, kindergartner Andre and third grader Sienna.

“I like that it’s a slow transition into school,” Kalmakis said of the model.

Bates said the school is trying to get everyone up to speed with learning platforms, which will allow for a smoother transition if the school must revert to fully remote learning again.

“We’re phasing in the devices,” Bates said.

Out of a student body of about 130, the families of nine students have opted for remote learning, Bates said, while the families of six students have opted to home-school their children.

Further dividing Westhampton’s small student body into two cohorts will mean smaller class sizes, with some classes having as few as four students.

Out of a staff of about 35, Bates said that nine have either retired or gone on leave recently. As such, he said, there was a lot of late hiring of employees.

“The staff has been wonderful,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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