Opelika High School won’t just have ninth- through 12th-graders walking through its halls come Aug. 5.
The beginning of the new school year will also mark the beginning of the Opelika City School system’s First Class Pre-K program. The school system received grants from the state to fund two classrooms for the 2020-21 school year, both of which will be located at Opelika High School.
Each classroom will have 18 students, with a teacher and a teacher’s aide to instruct and oversee students. Due to the limited number of slots for students, a lottery-style drawing was held at the high school on July 8 to select the 36 students to be in this year’s class.
“We had it in front of the high school so they could drive up and sit in their cars,” Jolene Clark, director of the school system’s Pre-K program, said. “We had a PA system, we had people from the state [department of education], people from the school system and the parents ended up getting out of their cars and walking up because it was a covered area.”
Some children were present with their parents for the drawing, a few of which ended up getting selected for the program.
Afterward, parents and students were able to tour the section of the school where the classrooms would be. The hallway running between the band room and the library will now house the classrooms and indoor playroom, separated from the rest of the school by a pair of double doors.
Pre-K students will be greeted at the door, with hand sanitizer, each morning at dropoff. The school day will begin at 8:15 a.m., with everyone social distancing by classes.
“They do a read aloud in the morning and afternoon, they do music and movement for part of the day, they’ll do whole group where they introduce a concept like colors or shapes,” Clark explained. “And then they’ll have some small groups where they work with the toys.”
A playground set will be constructed near the library by Aug. 5 for students to have outdoor playtime. There will also be an indoor “free choice” playtime by the end of the day, where they get to pick out what they want to do.
“That’s the time the teacher goes to all the children and talks to them,” she said.
“Or it could be to check them on standards to see what they can do with something.”
Nicole Beasley is one of the program’s two teachers. She has been with Opelika City Schools for seven years, having taught kindergarten, fourth and fifth grade.
“This program has been longstanding and has been proven to be successful, so once I heard that Opelika was getting some units I had to jump at the opportunity,” she said.
The classrooms have recently been filled with furniture and learning centers, as well as decorated in the warm, colorful style children’s classrooms are known for.
“Each section of the classroom is a type of center devoted to something different. So you have your block unit, your dramatic play, your home living, science, literacy, math, art and library,” Beasley explained.
While upper-grade levels have the option of virtual learning, Clark explained that Pre-K program’s success stems from the interaction that’s encouraged in class. Precautions will still be taken throughout the day to keep students, classrooms and everything the children touch stay clean.
In addition to hand sanitizer being used throughout the day, both teachers will be wearing face shields and masks. Students will also wear masks, with more flexibility given during outdoor playtime. There will also be disposable face masks available.
“We’ll also be getting bottles of another sanitizer to spray down the playground, and I will do that after a class leaves,” Clark said.
“And to also spray toys. I’ll ask that the auxiliary teacher do that while [the classes are] in the bathrooms since they see what the kids play with, too.”
While the school system’s Pre-K program had been a work in progress since last fall, having the program begin during a pandemic wasn’t what they had in mind.
“I’ve been with Opelika for a few years, and my mantra is ‘trust the trustworthy’ right now,” Beasley said.
“I’ve trusted them before this, and I know that they have the children’s best interests as well as the teachers’ best interests at heart. Some things will be a little different due to COVID, but like I said: ‘Trust the trustworthy.’ I’ve had faith in them before.”
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