Verona students return to in-person class at Sugar Creek Elementary

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 10:38 AM CDT
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VERONA, Wis. (WMTV) - Eager students and staff arrived for the first bell at Sugar Creek Elementary School in Verona to start a new school year on Wednesday.

Verona Area School District officials say this is the second largest elementary school in Dane County, with many newcomers this year from other districts and even other countries.

“We have 50 kids who have moved in grades 1-5 from Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela and around the United States, because Verona is a growing district,” said the Principal of Sugar Creek Elementary School, Todd Brunner.

Just nine of the schools 675 students have opted to learn virtually this year, with the rest returning for five full days of in-person instruction each week. About 29% of those students have not been to school in the last 17 months.

Staff have been using the last few days to team-build and create an environment that welcomes and supports all students.

“We start with kids and then we build our schools and build our systems around the children and their families, rather than be a school and then force kids to fit in,” said Brunner.

Masks are required for all Verona Area School Districts students and staff inside school buildings and on buses, in addition to other COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

“We are a pro-vaccination district. So what that means is while I’m no politician, I am an educator and what we know is vaccines work,” said Brunner.

COVID-19 rapid testing will be available in school for students and staff, should there be an outbreak of the virus. While planning out the COVID mitigation plan has been challenging at times, Brunner feels supported by his school community in the decisions they’ve made to minimize the spread of the virus.

“What I’ve found is the far overwhelming majority of families, they love their kids and they want them to be safe and they’re supporting us as we teach them,” said Brunner.

Sugar Creek now has one full-time school nurse and one nursing assistant. These positions were added with a goal of tracking and managing any COVID cases.

Teachers are focusing on supporting the social-emotional wellness of each student, knowing there will be major adjustments for many of their learners after more than a year of coping with COVID.

“This year I really extra want to make sure that my families and students feel supported and safe. I think that they might have questions coming into this year or different concerns and comfort levels and I want to make sure that all of those feelings are addressed and that everybody feels safe for the year to come,” said Kindergarten teacher, McCaley Laube.

Laube said while last year was difficult in many ways, she expects her young students to start school on a strong note.

“Coming off of last year we learned just how resilient children truly are and I anticipate my kids coming in with a totally different skill set. A background of navigating a virtual world and navigating a new in-person world,” said Laube.

Transportation to and from school remains a challenge for the district. Like many other schools, VASD has a shortage of bus drivers.

This has caused them to shift start and end times to shift by 5 to 15 minutes, depending on grade level. Each bus driver now takes three different loads of kids, on separate routes, to and from school each day.

VASD is offering sign-on bonuses of up to $5,000 for CDL-licensed drivers and are encouraging students to walk, bike or carpool to school.

The district also has a new superintendent, Dr. Tremayne Clardy. His vision for the year is “a time for healing.”

“We understand that the emotional toll of the pandemic has been dramatic for some of our students, but we also have some of the most resilient students in the area. We’re very optimistic for a great school year and we’re going to take care of our students,” said Dr. Clardy.

Dr. Clardy said success will require equity amongst students. His goal is to ensure that each learner has access to the resources they need to thrive regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, ability, language, family background or income.

“We want to make sure that no matter what the demographic and no matter what the case is, that every student has access to the education that they deserve,” said Dr. Clardy.

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