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'Kids are resilient' | Rising first graders get a head start to in-person learning in Fairfax County

A three-week summer program is designed to help students transition from virtual learning to in-person school.

FAIRFAX STATION, Va. — It’s a summer of firsts for a group of young ones in the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) system. They are also some of the first kids back to class in 2021 during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Fourteen rising first graders at Silverbrook Elementary School got a head start this school year, thanks to the first-ever Bridge to First Grade program. The three-week summer initiative by the county helps kids adapt and grow before the official start to the academic year.

Things like lining up for meals, listening to directions and, this year, wearing a mask when you’re not eating and keeping your distance in the cafeteria are all crucial parts of the emersion program.

“When they’re at their home in a virtual setting there’s probably lots of things are going on, but not to a degree when you have 20 kids in a classroom,"  teacher Kathryn Desmond said. "They’re learning to self-regulate ... prioritize things. So, the children cover the basics."

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Desmond has seen that her students, even with the rules and a new normal of school life, are happy to be with friends in a relatively normal school atmosphere. It's even guided some of the curriculum that she creates for students.

“Social-emotional growth is very important to learning ... especially at this young age,” Desmond said about the importance of having kids together in an in-person environment.

Recently, Desmond practiced bonding exercises during morning greetings and sharing time that helped promote eye contact and human connection you just can’t get from a computer. Her students expressed that the in-person interaction engages them like virtual learning could not.

“It’s boring when I’m on the computer ... it’s more fun when I’m in class,” 6-year old Mabel said. 

Mabel's classmate Ava agreed. 

“Activities are really fun and sometimes we do crafts we do a lot of stuff in school,” Ava said. 

A spokesperson from Fairfax County Public Schools said they hope to continue the bridge program next year. But like a lot of school districts, a lot is unknown about how school programs in 2021, will work six months or a year from now, during uncertain times -- it's still a pandemic. 

But what gives Desmond hope is what she has noticed as an educator that lies within her students. It's a resilience of children that adults may not fully see on the surface.

“Kids are resilient. We tend to stress about things and worry more about the change ... and they go with the flow,” Desmond said. "My wish is that they continue to have the confidence and that they come to school happy and we have a healthy, safe, school year for them.” 

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