BLOOMINGTON-NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — Across Central Illinois, students returned to school on Wednesday, for many districts’ first day of school.
In McLean County, that included McLean County Unit 5 Schools whose students started back as early as 7:45 a.m.
This school year, families attending Unit 5 schools were greeted with a fairly normal first day of school and can expect a traditional school year with the district returning to regular operations.
Unit 5 announced its back-to-school plans earlier this year and that included regular school start times, bus schedules, and bell times for middle and high schools. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kristen Weikle said the first day of school is always an exciting day for educators.
“We’re always excited the night before students come back. It’s always a joyous occasion to see them walking back in the building,” Weikle said.
Wednesday, most students in kindergarten through 12th grade returned to the classroom unless previously medically exempt from doing so. Weikle said getting most students back in person had always been the district’s goal.
“It’s wonderful to have pre-K through 12 back in session five days a week. We know that where most students thrive is in the classroom with their teachers, support staff, [and] peers. It feels good to have everyone back together,” Weikle said.
Weikle and other community volunteers greeted the students Wednesday morning with smiles and encouragement.
“The students I think are just excited to see so many people cheering for them when they enter the building; clapping, waving, welcoming them, and saying have a great day. I think it does a lot for the parents, [and] puts maybe some nervous parents’ minds at ease,” Weikle said.
Parents dropped their kids off, many for the first time, as they and their students readjust to a routine. Sophia Petsas dropped her five-year-old off for his first day of kindergarten.
“I’m so excited for him to be in person. Remote learning was really tough for him to be using electronics to try and talk to his teacher and learn when he was in pre-K,” Petsas said.
Petsas said it’s the day she and her son have been looking forward to since his 5th birthday.
“He’s an eager learner and is just very excited to make new friends and I’m excited for him as well,” Petsas said.
Petsas added she’s still “a bit” concerned regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, but said she will take advantage of the district’s free, voluntary COVID testing.
“I’m able to have him tested weekly to make sure that we’re staying safe and I hope other parents are doing the same just to be responsible,” Petsas said.
The testing is provided through the University of Illinois’ SHIELD testing system. It is free for all students and staff, but not required.
Tests will occur at least once a week.
Weikle also said social distancing and sanitizing still exist in the schools, adding the district made vast improvements to its HVAC ventilation in all the buildings to reduce virus transmission.
Unit 5 decided to required masks before Governor Pritzker’s mandate.