'A year for the better': Ridgefield High students return for full learning

RIDGEFIELD — As the morning sun gleamed over the distant, tree-studded hillside, students arrived at Ridgefield High School for their first day of classes.

Many were thrilled to report to the building bright and early Tuesday since they were split into cohorts the year before. The arrangement was part of a hybrid learning model that the district adopted due to the pandemic.

The return to full, in-person instruction is a welcome change for high school students who have yet to set foot in the building despite being enrolled there. The district is not offering a remote or hybrid option this year, and masks are required for all individuals regardless of vaccination status.

A group of student leaders spoke with Hearst Connecticut Media before first period to discuss how this school year differs from the last.

Junior Charlotte Kemp said she feels she’ll be able to “dive fully” into this school year since the district has more concrete protocols in place. She added that on the days she learned remotely, she felt “little division” between home and school.

Sophomore Hannah Yu agreed. “My first day of freshman year was online, which was weird — I woke up and felt like I had no place to go,” she recalled. “Last year I couldn’t see half my friend group because we were in different cohorts, so I’m excited we’re back in person.”

Junior Jack Federici said he and his peers would yield “better outcomes” now that they’re physically back in the classroom.

“I learn better in person since it’s easier to pay attention, but it will also be easier for teachers since they’re not instructing different groups of kids,” he explained. “It’s a year for the better.”

Junior Lizzy Garson is most excited to see the hallways filled with faces again, even though they’ll all be masked. And junior Matthew Uy is anticipating the return of in-person events such as club meetings, musicals and concerts. He plays violin in the high school’s orchestra.

“It feels like normal ... but also feels safe at the same time,” he said.

Superintendent weighs in

Superintendent Susie Da Silva said the district had a great start to the new school year. With more knowledge of the virus at their disposal, she explained, administrators were able to better prepare for the year ahead.

“Our kids know what to do and we know what to do,” she said. “Between (Monday) and (Tuesday) kids were incredibly compliant with mask-wearing — they were just so happy to be in school.”

The district did not experience any protests from parents denouncing the district’s mask mandate during the first two days of school, Da Silva said.

School officials will keep a close eye on local COVID-19 cases to inform how to proceed with quarantines, continued instruction and enhancing that learning.

And while the total percentage of unvaccinated faculty members within the district is unknown, Da Silva said those individuals will be able to partake in weekly COVID screenings to mitigate transmission.

“Yes there are differences than before COVID, but it feels like a very typical school year,” she added. “Teachers get to teach and kids get to learn.”