School Is Back in Session at SRPMIC

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Students in Ms. Amelia Carlos’ first grade classroom at Salt River Elementary School. Photo by Maria Chavez, Salt River Schools

School is back in session for students at the Early Childhood Education Center, Salt River Elementary School and the Accelerated Learning Academy on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

The first day of school was Monday, August 2, and classes began in-person with staff, students (with the exception of ECEC students) and visitors being required to wear masks as per federal and SRPMIC health guidelines. Staff were available to help assist ECEC students with mask-wearing if parents/guardians requested it.

A student waves as she walks in with her class to their first day of the new year at Salt River Elementary School. Photo provided by Salt River Schools 

Salt River Schools Interim Acting Superintendent Dr. Vicky Corlett said that SRS is staying vigilant with regard to health and safety. The protocols include taking temperatures before entering buildings, wearing face masks, respecting social distancing, and sanitizing hands, classrooms and materials throughout the day. “We are proud to offer safe, in-person learning for students and families. In-person learning is what’s best in terms of learning and meeting student goals for academic progress,” said Corlett.

Corlett also said in a statement on the SRS website that this school year’s division-wide theme is “Reach for the Stars.” On the first Thursday of every month, students and staff will be encouraged to wear their favorite college, trade school or high school gear.

An infant/toddler students at the Early Childhood Education Center gets some assistance to help stand for his first day of school photo. Photo provided by Salt River Schools 

“With [Reach for the Stars] we hope to recognize the dreams and goals we empower our students and families to reach, as well as to see ourselves as a constellation, a network of shining connections in a galaxy of possibilities,” said Corlett.

According to Corlett, SRS continues to offer students and families a robust academic experience beyond what other schools can offer. “Salt River Schools is unique in that our curriculum prioritizes O’odham and Piipaash languages and cultures, and we offer small class sizes for a first-class student-teacher experience.”

Many SRS events and programs are free and available to any SRPMIC student, regardless of where they attend school, including School and Community Relations, the S.T.E.P. Up Tutoring Program and many literacy initiatives, such as Footsteps2Brilliance.

Dr. Corlett said that wherever SRPMIC students attend school, good attendance is one of the best ways to ensure they receive the most benefit out of their academic experience. Dr. Corlett reminds families that school attendance officers monitor all SRPMIC students at Salt River Schools and surrounding districts. Warnings and citations will be issued to students who violate school attendance requirements. If students and families have questions, are struggling to find a school to enroll in, or have attendance concerns, they can reach out to School and Community Relations at (480) 362-2534.

Salt River Schools continues to monitor COVID-19 infection numbers and is in constant communication with Community leaders to ensure that they are offering the safest learning experience possible.

Early Childhood Education Center

On the first day back to school, ECEC offered fun photo opportunities for families.

“Most children smiled and walked up to the school on their own. Their body language displayed confidence and familiarity with our routine, which we’re really proud of. Children—and parents—were excited and ready for school,” said Tami Brungard, ECE leader.

Brungard said her staff has worked diligently to create safe and welcoming environments for both children and families. Many adults commented on how confident they were in the ECEC’s safety procedures, and many were excited to have their children return, especially those whose children were in remote learning last year.

Students in the Eagle classroom at the Early Childhood Education Center socialize while playing with dinosaurs. Photo provided by Salt River Schools

“You know, when we returned to in-person learning back in April, we as staff had a lot of questions about how all the safety procedures would look and feel. But as time has passed, we are confident in our processes to ensure safety and protect everyone’s health,” expressed Brungard.

“So, for this new school year, our focus is on the welcome. We want to be present in the moment with our students and families. We are enjoying all the energy and feelings—the buzz and hum of excitement in the air. To hear the children interacting and laughing—that felt good.”

Brungard reflected on how proud she is of the ECEC staff and the relationships and trust the school builds with students and families. At the front desk, a grandma brought in two students who were in the same classroom last year but now will be in separate classes. The grandma was torn about which child to drop off first. She knew the oldest would have a harder time transitioning, as she was processing her own emotions. Taking that extra step to offer reassurance, the child’s new teacher texted the grandma during the day to let her know that the child was doing well.

Salt River Elementary School

SRES Principal Dr. Amanda Guerrero said that the first day of school ran smoothly and that the staff, students and families were happy to be back.

Mr. Jason St. Louis helps a student during orientation at the Accelerated Learning Academy. Photo provided by Salt River Schools

“There were a lot of smiles and happy faces today,” said Guerrero. “I think it was exciting for students and staff to come back to a new school year in-person; plus, it kind of feels like a new school, too, with all the great improvements we’ve made, like new flooring and desks. Teachers had fun decorating posters and classroom boards with welcome messages for their students.”

Accelerated Learning Academy

ALA Principal Jama Nacke said there were many happy and smiling faces from both the students and teachers on the first day back. Many students remarked how nice it was to be back at school and that everyone was so friendly. The day started with an orientation and some ice-breakers so students could familiarize themselves with ALA and the staff. Students made a great effort in masking up and practicing social distancing.

Orientation for students at the Accelerated Learning Academy included important health and safety procedures. Photo provided by Salt River Schools 
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