Private school students are back in class

Many families opting for full-time, in-person instruction at private schools in Hinsdale

As some public school students wait to start classes and others are participating in remote learning, many students at private schools are back in class every day.

Zion Lutheran Preschool started the school year yesterday with a special welcome for kids - and special directions on how to enter and exit the building.

"We are operating at a reduced enrollment, so just the reduction in class size allows for more social distancing in the classroom," director Elizabeth Reilley said.

Zion typically offers half- and full-day options, but the latter was not possible this fall.

"Under these COVID restrictions, we weren't able to offer a full day program," Reilley said. "We had really built a reputation for ourselves in the community as offering a full-day program. It was heartbreaking to have to (cancel) that."

As is the case with other private schools and public schools, Zion students are wearing masks and practicing social distancing. New drop off and pick up procedures, daily health screenings and one-way traffic patterns are designed to keep students and staff safe.

Reilley said the young preschoolers are having fun wearing their masks, which feature dinosaurs and Batman and other fun characters.

"The kids are teaching us. They are modeling for our behavior for wearing the mask," she said.

At St. Isaac Jogues School, educators welcomed back students - who came in the building through six different entrances - on Monday.

"I have to say it was truly amazing," Principal Carol Burlinski said. "It was so many months and months of planning that when the children actually arrived, it was very emotional for all of us."

The 423 elementary school students are split among 25 classrooms of 16 or 17 students. Some spaces in the building, such as the gym, art room and STEM lab, were converted to make that possible. In fifth through eighth grade, where classes are content based, the teacher will move from classroom to classroom and the students will stay put.

Despite the different circumstances, students were happy to return, Burlinski said.

"I think for the kids, too, they really appreciated being back at school," she said. "We felt like we had a really great day."

Students who choose the remote option will be able to see their classroom via livestream on Google Meet, and large TV screens in each classroom will allow students in school to see their classmates at home.

Burlinski confirmed there was a higher demand for spots at the Catholic school this year and said she currently has about 27 students on a waiting list.

Hinsdale Adventist Academy also saw an increase in applications this year, said Kym Parker, administrative office manager and registrar. Classes started Aug. 19 and she said things have gone "surprisingly well."

"I had my doubts at first, but we haven't had any issues," she said of the 145 pre-K to 12th graders who attend the academy.

The school is offering a five-day in-person option, a fully online option and a blended option. About 120 kids are in the building on any given day, she said.

While the weather holds, the school is taking advantage of outdoor space to give students a break from wearing their masks. Circles painted on the grass, six feet apart, give students their own space for a camp chair or beach towel instead of a desk.

"We're trying to get the kids outside as often as possible," Parker said, noting the teachers bring out their iPads so they can continue to livestream to students participating remotely.

The school received many applications from public school families whose parents wanted an in-person education for their children.

"Even yesterday, I had another three kids apply," Parker said. "They started school this morning."

The school is quieter this year, with students remaining in their classrooms and teachers moving through the hallways, but Parker is glad to have folks back in the building.

"I was here all summer by myself, so I love having the kids back," she said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean