Sean Rickert and Matt Petersen are pleased.

It’s been three weeks since their teachers and students returned to the classroom in their respective school districts and COVID-19 hasn’t struck.

Getting through the first two weeks was crucial to them.

“When we started on the 17th, my goal was two weeks. If we could stay open for two weeks, give teachers a chance to work with kids, to get to know the kids, give the parents the chance to know the teachers, that was very, very important,” said Rickert, Pima Unified School District Superintendent.

“It’s all about student-centered learning and if your focus is on student-centered learning, you get away from just running a curriculum or just running a lesson,” Rickert said. “What we did in the fourth quarter of last year, we were just running a curriculum. We were just sending home materials to the parents so the parents could try to help their students continue with their education. That is not the goal of school. The goal of a school is to help children to grow. To do what is best for kids. To help them grow and learn and that takes relationships. That takes empathy and understanding and you can’t get that in a Zoom meeting.”

Petersen, Thatcher Unified School District superintendent, agreed.

“If you’re visiting with a kid in person you’re going to be able to identify their needs, their instructional needs and their emotional needs. I don’t know if that’s really possible through a Zoom meeting, to be quite honest,” Petersen said.

Establishing student-teacher and teacher-parent relationships over these last few weeks will help enormously should COVID-19 hit again or should a particularly harsh cold and flu season send kids and teachers home for awhile, the superintendents said.

While it was a gamble to open schools up again, Rickert and Petersen said they felt comfortable doing so given the declining number of cases in the county and the many, many precautions being taken by their staff. The fact is, their students just need to be back in the classroom.

The students seem just as thrilled to be back in the classroom as their teachers, even with all of the new rules in place, the men said.

“A lot of these people want to be in school and (are thinking) ‘If I have to wear a mask, I’ll wear a mask,’” Petersen said. “We’re seeing a majority of kids that want to be in school, want to socialize with their friends.”

“They’re not taking it for granted like they used to,” Rickert said.

Not every PUSD and TUSD student is back in the classroom, however.

Just over 100 of Thatcher’s 1,778 students and 70 of Pima’s 1,000 students have opted to stick with distance learning.

Nearly half of Thatcher’s distance learners are high school students and many of them are seniors with jobs, Petersen said.

Distance learners within TUSD are being taught by literacy coach and assessment curriculum coaches, Petersen said.

Pima Unified adjusted their schedules this year and it gives teachers the time needed to speak with students who are distance learning and post their assignments and grade them, Rickert said.

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