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Elementary schools ready for hybrid learning to start Monday

Vista Grande Elementary Principal Christine Prescott walks back to her office, her pathway clearly marked as one-way. Gary Herron photo.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Second-year Vista Grande Elementary Principal Christine Prescott says she’s excited about the start of school and so are the school’s teachers — in spite of the new challenges.

Rio Rancho Public Schools’ 11 elementary buildings and the new Shining Stars Preschool open the classrooms for the first time since March on Monday morning.

Despite the pandemic, Prescott said, only one teacher retired, and attendance has only slightly decreased, from 670 in the 2019-20 school year to 658 expected Monday. That number included three transfers from Albuquerque Public Schools.

Prescott showed this Observer reporter numerous changes at the school, all to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, including:

• hallways split in half, with one direction of travel on each half;

• separate doors for each grade to get to the playground for recess, with half of the students on the playground and the other half on the playing field north of the school;

• drinking fountains no longer is use, but with a faucet to allow water bottles to be filled;

• hand sanitizer at every entrance; and

• desks in the classroom socially distanced, at least 6 feet apart.

The RRPS Board of Education, mandated to follow state guidelines, set the start date six days later than the original date of Sept. 8, giving the district’s facilities department time to install barriers between seats in the cafeteria. The supplies were in Thursday, but the barriers had yet to be built, Prescott said.

She was also happy to report the school’s music teacher had made each student his/her own instrument, again coming up with new ways to teach in this “new normal.”

“All of our teachers are ready,” Prescott said.

Two of them — second-grade teachers Sonja Bachahui and Leah Lichtenfeld, who swap virtual and hybrid teaching daily — were proud of the way their classroom was set up. Both came from other states: Bachahui, in her seventh year at Vista Grande, was an educator in North Carolina, while Lichtenfeld, starting her fourth year at VG El, came from Nevada.

“This is the best school I’ve ever worked at,” Bachahui beamed. “Second grade’s the best grade.”

“We’re happy to be here,” Lichtenfeld agreed.

Vista Grande Elementary staff members’ kids had a day camp last week, while their parents were busy setting up classrooms for the first day of school. In front, from left, are Jay Prescott and Landon Bourassa; in back are Emma Guerrero, Matthew Walker, Everett Prescott and Lucas Walker, standing in front of Principal Christine Prescott. Gary Herron photo.

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