By Michelle Levine
With vaccination rates up over 70% in our area, most local students will be welcomed back to familiar school buildings on Sept. 8 ― with the exception of middle schoolers.
As part of the Blueprint Schools Initiative, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) is building six new schools, including Hyattsville Middle School. When the current sixth graders are eighth graders, they may get to walk through the halls of a brand new building at the start of the 2023-24 school year, the middle school’s projected completion date.
In the meantime, students will travel to nearby schools for the next two years. The Hyattsville Middle School (HMS) website explains that sixth graders will go to Thomas Stone Elementary in Mt. Rainier, seventh and eighth graders in the Creative and Performing Arts (CPA) program will go to Robert Goddard Montessori School in Seabrook, and non-CPA seventh and eighth graders will start the school year at the former Meadowbrook Elementary School building in Bowie. Non-CPA students will join their peers at Robert Goddard Montessori as soon as a 10-classroom structure is built to accommodate them; the goal is to have the structure completed no later than January 2022, said Pamela Boozer-Strother, school board representative for District 3, which includes Hyattsville.
“I’m committed to doing my best to make sure it [the transition] goes as smoothly as possible,” said Sarah Christopherson, the president of the middle school’s Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO).
Christopherson does foresee transportation obstacles, however, as non-CPA students, who constitute a large percentage of HMS seventh and eighth graders, will attend school 15 miles away, in Bowie, rather than within a few miles of their homes.
Aside from that, Christopherson said that the vast majority of parents are excited to have their kids going back to school in person.
The PGCPS website states that all students can attend in person, but some can opt to attend virtually, if they wish. For grades K-6, there will be limited online instruction, but only until a vaccine is approved for this age group.
For grades 7-12, the school district accepted applications for students who experienced success with online learning and wanted to continue the process. Up to 700 students in the district were allowed to choose to take most of their core classes through either pre-recorded videos or live classes, with limited elective courses offered.
Boozer-Strother said that the school district has ensured that students can return safely. When schools implemented hybrid setup this past spring, only two out of the district’s 208 schools saw COVID-19 outbreaks, she said.
The decision to move to a full opening after a few months of hybrid learning is in line with the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency says that returning to school is a priority and can be done safely, and notes that for unvaccinated children, wearing masks indoors and sitting at separating desks is the best way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
This is especially important for elementary students, who aren’t yet eligible for a vaccine.
After so many months of virtual instruction, students and their parents feel overwhelming relief to be returning to the classroom, said Christopherson.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement for getting back to where you’re doing in-person teaching and your teacher is actually teaching to you in the room instead of teaching through the computer,” she said.