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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Peyton District goes back to the classroom

Right at 7:20 a.m., cars lined up alongside the Peyton Elementary School front sidewalk as students, only a few wearing masks, hopped out of their parentsí vehicles. About six staff members began taking the mass of studentsí temperatures with touch-free thermometers. Anxious kindergarten and first-grade students hugged their masked parents goodbye to begin their first day of school.Because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the start of the 2020 school year is different this year. While some schools, like Falcon School District 49, opted to start their school year completely online, others have opened their doors, with caution, to their students.ìParents seem to be very pleased with how we are doing things,î said Tim Khistler, superintendent of Peyton School District 23. ìThey are relieved for the fact that we are actually holding school and excited because they believe that our kids deserve to be educated and deserve to be together. There is too much of a social aspect to say that kids cannot be together.îBefore Peyton School District 23 decided to open their doors to the new school year, they sent out a survey to parents. In one question, parents were asked how they planned to educate their children during the pandemic.Among the 302 families that responded, a total of 83.1 percent of parents said they preferred to send their children back to school and agreed to comply with safety precautions. A total of 25.2 percent of families preferred an online option for educating their children; one percent of families said they preferred neither option and found other schooling methods for their children.ìOur parents have been so understanding,î Khistler said. ìOur parents have been forthright in sharing their thoughts and their feelings. But today when we started school and the students were showing up, you could tell there was some anxiousness. But our staff worked so well in helping relieve any anxiety.îKhistler said the school worked closely with Centura Health and El Paso County Public Health to create health and safety guidelines for managing the new school year. In addition to custodial staff increasing their cleaning and sanitizing efforts, all staff members are required to record their temperatures every day and wear masks. Students will eat lunches in their classrooms, periodically wash and sanitize their hands and be encouraged to practice social distancing protocols.They are asking everyone who comes into the building to wear a mask, Khistler said. Staff can take off their masks only when there is no one nearby. Children age 10 and younger are not required to wear a mask.The high school students attend their classes in cohorts. The cohorts alternate which days they are in the classroom. On days outside the classroom, the students complete online schooling.ìWe will only have half of the usual students in the building,î Khistler said. ìThe hallways will not be jam-packed. We decided this based off of what the parents raised concerns about.îKhistler is hopeful that sports will resume as normal following Christmas break. But, for now, sports are mostly put on hold for the first half of the school year. All sports, except cross country, are cancelled.ìThere is a silver lining to everything,î Khistler said. ìOur cross country program is thriving. We are up to 40 students; we usually have about 10. It is a great opportunity for our athletes to stay in shape.îPeyton School District teamed up with Colorado Digital Learning and iLearn Collaborative to create a completely online option for students who choose not to physically attend classes. This pre-made curriculum is supported by Peyton staff. Online students can have one-on-one interaction with staff as needed.ìWe will, at least once a week, try to get a hold of each student,î Khistler said. ìWe believe that one-on-one, face-to-face opportunities are important. The students need to see their teacher to create a relationship.îRandy and Amanda Mason chose not to send their three young children to school for the beginning of the school year. They decided to homeschool their children using the online programming offered by Peyton School District.ìI think it is absolutely ridiculous for schools to be open right now,î Randy Mason said. ìSchools are a cesspool. It seems selfish to send our kids to school right now.îMason said that, in addition to the traditional classes his children need to take, he will focus on teaching them lessons not taught in schools. He wants to teach his children subjects like financial planning, basic mechanics and home economics to help jumpstart their skills to deal with challenges outside of school.Both Randy and Amanda Mason work full time to support their family and Amanda Mason attends online school. They are still trying to figure out how to manage their financials and time to make the online schooling work for them this year. But they hold the safety of their family and the safety of the community above all else, he said.ìFinancial struggles, even though they are present in our lives right now, are less important than the safety of my family,î Mason said. ìI know this year has been difficult for everyone. But I think this is the time for us to really play our part in staying out of contact with others. We, as individuals, need to focus on keeping ourselves and others safe.îEditorís note: Full disclosure ó Randy Mason is Stephanie Masonís brother.

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