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Culpeper County High School senior Catherine George said “spirits were definitely uplifted” throughout hallways and classrooms on April 12, which was the first day some local students commenced schedules with four days of in-person learning.

“You could feel it in the building, it was just different,” George, a member of the superintendent’s student advisory group, told the Culpeper County School Board.

Until April 12, all Culpeper schools were offering two days of in-person learning and two days of virtual learning. Superintendent Dr. Tony Brads explained that it “was the new first day of school” and staff did a “phenomenal job” to make it work. Dr. Stacey Timmons, the schools’ director of operations, explained no busses arrived late even with additional students to transport.

The schools’ recently amended mitigation plan, which includes a reduction in required social distancing from six feet to three, allowed high and middle schools to offer four days of in-person learning. Due to limited space, elementary schools are sticking with two days of in-person learning and adding fully virtual students when possible.

George said excitement was in the air as students got to socialize with friends they had not seen for a year.

“It was just really nice to be able to see those friends I haven’t seen...Or seeing those people who I know have been struggling to come back and I already see them progressing,” she said.

George said learning during the coronavirus pandemic has not been easy, noting that students who have received straight As are not necessarily getting the same education they would have received last year.

“There’s still a loss of learning there,” she said.

While many students are returning for four days of in-person learning, George explained that others are comfortable maintaining their hybrid schedules. She noted that some students have gotten into the groove of these new schedules and are using spare time to work or babysit siblings.

Any hesitation among students to add more in-person days, she said, does not relate to the coronavirus. Instead, she said “they have a new routine” in “the new normal.” She added that transitioning back to “normal school won’t be normal” because “we’ve almost created a new normal.”

“People are worried to go back to what our normal is because they have created this sort of new normal bubble,” George said. “They don’t want to pop the normal bubble because when our normal bubble pops, this is where we are.”

Some students, George added, are worried that they have missed key information that could impede their ability to build upon those lost lessons.

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