Troy schools return to in-person learning

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published September 7, 2021

 Ella Odgers prepares for her first day as a seventh grader at Baker Middle School.

Ella Odgers prepares for her first day as a seventh grader at Baker Middle School.

Photo provided by Patrice Rowbal

 Breo Pickett shares a little about herself as she gets ready to head off to school for the first time at Barnard Elementary School.

Breo Pickett shares a little about herself as she gets ready to head off to school for the first time at Barnard Elementary School.

Photo provided by Patrice Rowbal

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TROY — School is back in session, and the students of the Troy School District returned to classes Aug. 31.

After the difficulties of last year — resulting in altering between virtual learning and in-person learning, and varying states of quarantine and self-isolating — Troy Superintendent Richard Machesky said the entire district is ready to try to get back to some version of normalcy.

“I couldn’t be more excited about the start of our school year,” Machesky said. “I have been asked that by a lot of people, and people have been extremely positive. I’ve been around most of our schools this week, and the students and staff are excited to be back. Considering what we’ve been through the last 18 months, I think everyone is ready to be back.”

School administrators said the first few days back went well and they are optimistic that with the number of people vaccinated and mask mandates in place, students can return to a more traditional academic experience.

“The first day was fantastic,” remarked Athens High School Principal Lara Dixon. “I had a staff member say it was the best day ever. Everyone is thrilled to have the kids back. With half of the students having never been in the building before, our priority was all about making them comfortable and getting to know staff members and each other. We spent the week prioritizing connection, and next week we will be prioritizing academics. We are doing a spirit week this week. Our first day we had a theme of ‘come as you are.’ The staff was then all throughout the hall to help guide people to where they needed to go.”

“In the Troy community, I think it’s a special community who is working together to create a positive culture,” added Troy Union Elementary School Principal Mike Cottone. “I think that ‘one Troy’ message we have been supporting has led to the district developing good protocols and communicating why we are back in the classroom and why we are wearing masks. We want to create learning opportunities that you can’t have when people aren’t together in the classroom.”

Dixon said that the high schools are trying to be as accommodating as possible when it comes to welcoming students back, especially since this year’s sophomores didn’t get a traditional freshman year to get accustomed to high school.

“Our seniors came and gathered on the football field to watch the sunrise,” she said. “We had the band play and our staff there with them to accompany them into the building. We had games for kids to play outside during lunch. We encouraged our older students to look out for the freshmen and sophomores. We’re also having a club fair this week so they can learn about our 88 clubs and organizations they can take advantage of here.”

The mask mandate issued by the Oakland County Health Division for public schools was a major factor in schools being able to return in person. Dixon said that ensuring students can adapt to this change has been an important step in all the district’s schools.

“We explained to students why we’re doing a mask mandate,” she said. “It’s from the Health Department. We appreciate the students’ understanding. We do have a few students who have medical needs to can’t wear a mask, but everyone else is. They, obviously, can take them off when outside or eating.”

Although some parents in the district have spoken out at Troy City Council and Board of Education meetings objecting to the mask mandates, school administrators said those complaints have largely been kept separate from the day-to-day activities in the school and have been mostly restrained to the district level.

“We didn’t get any negative feedback about masks in our school community,” Dixon said. “There might have been some people who took issue at the district level, but on the school level things have been very calm and understanding.”

“Our community has been pretty receptive toward supporting the mandate,” added Cottone. “Our community has had an understanding of trying to do what is best for everyone involved.”

Machesky said there have been some complaints and comments about the mandate directed at district leaders, but that the vast majority of the feedback he has gotten has been positive or at least accepting of the circumstances of the mask mandate.

“We have received some concerns from families regarding the mask mandate,” he said. “The vast majority of the community has been receptive to the mandates. I would prefer not to wear them myself, but the Health Department has said it’s necessary, so we’re all going along with their instructions. Most families understand that, even if they don’t want to wear the masks.”

He went on to say that he thinks that the public pulling together and doing their part is the key to ensuring students get a proper and comprehensive in-person education.

“I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for our community stepping up and getting the kids back in class,” said Machesky. “We have been trying to do three things in recent months: get the students back learning in person, doing it safely, and making it sustainable. After the experiences of the last year and a half, we have seen how important in-person learning is.”

Machesky stressed the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine and how it is a key factor in allowing children to return to a healthy life in public.

“What we are already seeing is that where there are cases that occur with COVID, those who are vaccinated are in a great position to not have to quarantine and continue learning in person, participating in clubs and sports, and so forth, so I can’t stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated,” he said.

The Troy School District’s leaders said that despite the challenges presented by the ongoing COVID-19 threat and the long absence from in-person learning for many of the students, they are glad to have everyone back in person.

“It’s awesome to have everyone back together and to be able to look someone in the eye when you’re teaching,” said Cottone. “Hopefully, there will be opportunities to keep doing that and make a real difference in someone’s life.”

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