For many children this academic year, it has been a welcome, familiar experience to be back in school full time, after a year and a quarter of mostly virtual learning. For others, even though they may technically have a year or two of education under their belts, school is a brand-new concept.

That was the report from Morristown Elementary School principal Kate Torrey and her counterpart at Stowe Elementary, Nina Slade. Torrey said kids in kindergarten and first grade simply have “no clue how to do school” since they haven’t been through that system long enough.

“Even though our kids who were homeschooled for kindergarten are happy to be here for first grade, they just have no idea how to do first grade,” Torrey said.

She said that means throwing more support at the kindergarten teachers.

The elementary schools in Morristown and Stowe use a “Responsive Classroom” model, referring to a trademarked education approach by the Center for Responsive Schools that places the teaching of social and emotional skills on par with teaching academic content. Torrey said that is very much needed with all the stress brought on by the pandemic.

“The teachers are very aware of the social and emotional needs of the students,” she said. “They’re spending a lot of time on community-building activities, taking care of those social and emotional needs, and contacting the counselors and getting them involved right away when they see that a child needs that.”

Slade said the administrative staff and teachers act as something of tour guides for the young students, greeting them “with smiles under our masks” first thing in the morning.

On Friday, weather permitting, Morristown is planning on holding its first “whole school community meeting” since before the pandemic started. Something of a tradition in the village, the students, teachers, staff, parents and other people from the community come together and mingle. It will be outside because of pandemic rules, but Torrey said “there’s a lot of spirit that is generated in those meetings.”

Slade said Stowe Elementary has Friday community meetings, too, but the school will be streaming them live instead of having everyone congregate.

Still, she said, it’s an improvement over last year, because it will be live instead of pre-taped.

Stowe is inviting people from the community into the school to volunteer again, as well as opening the school to tours.

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