FACTORYVILLE — For the first time in six months, John Yanniello stood in front of a classroom full of children.
Unlike most area students, those at Lackawanna Trail will be in their classroom five days a week — spaced at least several feet apart and wearing masks.
On Thursday, Yanniello met the fourth graders in his math class. He also positioned a stand with his laptop so that other students, whose parents chose a virtual option, could see the math class, too.
Staying apart, Lackawanna Trail students came together for the first day of an unprecedented school year.
“I’m just happy they’re back,” Yanniello said as his students ate lunch in his classroom instead of the cafeteria due to social distancing efforts. “They seem happy to be back as well.”
While most school districts in Northeast Pennsylvania chose hybrid or fully virtual models for reopening, the Wyoming County district chose to fully reopen its schools. About half of the district’s 1,000 students live in Lackawanna County — making them the only public school students in the county with the option for a traditional schedule.
Surveys this summer showed 75% of parents favored a full return to school. Although state recommendations suggest the district should have opened with a hybrid or virtual start, district officials felt they could reopen the schools safely. More than 20% of the district’s students have opted for virtual learning for now, which lets the in-person students have more space for social distancing.
“We have a lot to prove the next couple days,” Superintendent Matthew Rakauskas said. “It’s been a team effort.”
Throughout the elementary center Thursday, teachers adjusted to instructing the children sitting at classroom desks or watching from home.
Art teacher Dan Demora read a book about coloring to kindergarten students. He made sure the students watching from home could see the pictures, too.
Third-grade teacher Todd Peters led his students on a classroom scavenger hunt. Instead of moving around the room, students had to stay at their desks.
“These kids are very resilient,” Peters said. “It’s a little learning curve for everyone, but it seems to be going smoothly.”
The district purchased enough Chromebooks for each student, and officials know that a surge in coronavirus cases could cause the district to move to a hybrid or fully virtual schedule. If that happens, the district will be ready, Rakauskas said.
For now, students must pass a temperature check before entering the building each day. Due to state requirements, they also keep masks on while sitting in the classroom, even if desks are spaced more than six feet apart.
Zoey Chang expects she will get used to wearing her mask in class.
“I missed my friends,” the 7-year-old second grader said. “I got to play with them today.”