The 2021/22 school year in Incline Village was off to a bit of a strained start but not even Covid-19 nor the Caldor Fire could keep kids from going back to school in person. Within the Washoe County School District, the first day back to school for in-person/in classroom education was supposed to be August 23, however, most schools didn’t really start getting into the groove of things until after Labor Day. Here are some fun, new, and exciting programs and events local schools have lined up for this fall:
Lots of Fun Upcoming Events at IES
“Initially [the break in the start of the school year] was due to the smoke, and then it was because of the evacuations,” says Incline Elementary School Principal Dan Zimmerman. IES was finally able to host its Parents Back to School Night on September 14, welcoming families back with an outdoor pizza party.
Now that school is totally in session, Zimmerman is excited to host upcoming events such as its September 30th jogathon fundraiser to help out with funding P.E. instruction and raising money for its fairly new Maker Space classroom ran by Trina Kleinhenz, who teaches kids everything from crafts to technology, digital citizenship, coding, and robotics.
“With the robotics, students write a story and have the robot tell it,” Zimmerman says. For instance, maybe students draw on recent events that affect their lives like exploring a schoolwide reflection of Covid and their hope for the future, or the impact the pandemic has made. IES fundraisers will help support the Maker Space, such as getting a new 3D printer and other resources voiced by the students and Kleinhenz.
Then the next big community event that the elementary school will host will be on November 2 from 4-6pm, its Día de Los Muertos festival, that will feature a salsa tasting contest, a mariachi band from the Incline High School, tostadas, tacos, games for kids, and more.
“It’s the best food you’ll get in Incline,” Zimmerman says.
A New Filtration System and Outdoor Seating Keeps Air Clean at LTS
Over at Lake Tahoe School, a privately funded school serving kids in PreK up through eighth grade, students started off the new school year on August 23 in person and were able to get a full week in before smoke from the Caldor Fire crept in. That last week in August, kids had three partial days of learning with delayed starts and then were able to get back to normal operations on September 8.
“The issue that first week was smoke but we have a great filtration system and were able to keep kids indoors,” says LTS Head of School Bob Graves. Last December, LTS replaced all of its air filters with a higher-grade system, keeping air flow clean and fresh for teachers and students alike.
“We’ve been open since August 23rd and then we all shut down the following week due to the Caldor Fire. We have teachers and staff all over the lake and we didn’t want them to have to worry about coming in if they needed to evacuate,” Graves adds.
As far as how Covid has affected its staff and students, the LTS already has a year under its belt of dealing with masks, social distancing, and cleaning protocols. Being privately funded, LTS was also able to say in session all of the 2020/21 school year, following whatever the state guidelines were at the time.
“We all wear masks and practice social distancing and spaced out the seating [in classrooms and other areas] three feet apart,” Graves says. Even though Incline Village is a small portion and one of the less populated regions of Washoe County, when Washoe County is in a high Covid transmissible tier then the LTS must abide by Governor Steve Sisolak’s orders.
“Sometimes it’s hard for parents to understand that but we won’t go against the governor’s orders,” Graves says. As far as what it’s like making students and teachers wear facemasks in the school, he further comments, “If it keeps kids in session then it’s worth it.”
In the crazy event that the school does have to shut down, students can easily access their coursework online and transition to at-home Zoom meetings until they can return to the classroom. Parents can also be assured that students at LTS will not have to deal with a hybrid schedule.
“It’s not a very effective way to educate, with a teacher trying to pay attention to the screen and students in the classroom. It’s really difficult to teach that way,” he adds.
Now that classes have launched in person, athletics and other events are off to a promising start. Like other local schools, LTS also recently hosted its Back-to-School night and athletics are getting back up and going again.
“And we can have fans in the stands this time,” Graves says. LTS is also planning field trips and bringing other fun pre-Covid activities back on board. Newly built outdoor classrooms also give teachers and students a fresh, engaging atmosphere.
“We beefed up our outdoor classrooms this year and the kids love it; 50 percent of them are outside,” explains Graves, with the added benefit of not having to wear masks.
“We have six outdoor classrooms with tree stumps and Adirondack chair seating, and we beefed up our internet too so kids can take their iPads and laptops outside,” Graves says. I ask if it’s kind of like being at summer camp.
“It’s like camp but 180 days a year…and you get graded,” Graves laughs. “Just being in the fresh air…everybody loves it,” he adds.
IMS’s Zones of Regulation and Mix of New Programs Help Students Stay On Track
Like the other schools, the smoke and pending evacuations kind of created a delayed opening for Incline Middle School but kids and teachers were able to enjoy their first full week back on September 7 after Labor Day.
“It’s nice to welcome the kids and teachers back into the building again,” says Incline Middle School Principal Kari Michael. There’s always the back-to-school jitters as teachers and students venture into the unknown with new classes and mates, but that quickly transitioned into the gratefulness of seeing each other in person again. And while Michael admits that the ongoing pandemic maybe causes underlying concern for staff, parents, and kids, IMS has played with different seating charts to accommodate social distancing and has a solid plan in place if anyone must self-isolate.
“Everyone here is committed to being here in person,” Michael says, adding that the Washoe County School District’s NorthStar Online School is also an option for those who aren’t comfortable returning in person.
In the 2020/21 school year, IMS practiced a hybrid schedule from August-April and then went to the full distance learning model last December and January when Covid cases spiked in the county. The hybrid schedule was also tough to follow through on at the middle school level.
“We’re very glad to not have a hybrid schedule anymore, it was pulling teachers too thin,” Michael says. “They didn’t have enough face time with the kids,” she adds.
Michael is glad to be away from that and start out the season with a bit more sense of normalcy this year and have the opportunity to welcome parents back into the school as well. “It feels really positive and good,” Michael says about the general attitude throughout the building. Sports such as girls’ basketball and cross country are also back in session, and spectators can come watch (special QR codes are set up at athletic events to track attendance).
Everyone still must wear facemasks when they’re on school property (except for students who are out on recess), but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal anymore.
“They’re pretty used to it by now and it does seem to work to stop the spread,” Michael says. Despite the pandemic, the IMS is also excited to roll out a new wellness initiative with its Zones of Regulation program. The zones have different activities that cater to students’ emotions, offering things like a pull-up bar, yoga, meditation, Legos, and coloring exercises to help students find balance and get back on track before they return to the classroom (instead of going to the principal’s office when they act out).
“We’re trying to be a little more proactive in creating ways for kids to take a reset,” Michael says.
Michael is also looking forward to IMS continuing its Lego robotics program- where teams use laptops to build and design directed robots and program them to do different tasks- as well as its hands-on Inquiry Lab that features science activities students can participate in as they rotate through the lunch schedule while also getting them away from computer screens.
“It’s about doing hands-on projects without the use of screens or computers. Maybe they make bracelets, play with Legos, experiment with magnetic kits,” she says. “It gives them time to not look at a screen and use their brain in a different way,” Michael adds.