The annual D209 Back to School Bash was held at Proviso West on August 20. (Photo provided)

Proviso Township High School District 209 staff, parents and students sounded optimistic about returning to in-person learning during the annual Back to School Bash held Aug. 20 at Proviso West High School, 4701 Harrison St. in Hillside. 

All students returned to classrooms in D209 on Aug. 23. They’ll start the school year with full in-person learning. Students and staff members, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear masks and the district has mandated a 3-foot social distancing protocol, among other COVID-19-related precautions. 

Parents, students and staff members who were interviewed at the Bash said they were happy to be back in person, because they believe it makes a better learning environment. 

District officials said they will provide support to students who may be struggling with learning loss and mental health services for students dealing with pandemic-related trauma. 

Dr. Kevin Brown, the deputy superintendent for educational services, said that the school district is concerned about the psychological toll from isolation that occurred due to the pandemic mitigation measures. He said that counselors, social workers and psychiatrists will be available to students who need them. 

Nicole Wilson, the district’s head of communications, said that the mask mandate and 3-foot social distancing rule will even be enforced in lunchrooms. She said staff will undergo weekly COVID-19 tests, the buildings will be cleaned regularly as usual and sanitary stations will continue to be available. 

Wilson said that “at least 4,000 to 5,000 [people] came through” vaccine clinics that the district hosted for students, staff and community members over the summer. She said she didn’t know how many students and staffers have been vaccinated.

“We’ve done our part so we can return to some kind of normalcy,” Wilson said. “We’re so excited.”

Ayanna Blackwell, 47, of Bellwood, said that her daughter is a freshman at Proviso West’s Math and Science Academy. She said that her daughter has been struggling with the fact that most of her friends from Roosevelt Middle School didn’t get into the program, but Blackwell said that her daughter is a good student and that she would thrive at the new school.

“I’m excited about their curriculum,” she said. “I think it will help her.”

Blackwell also said that she was excited that her daughter will be learning in person. She said she believes in-person learning will help her daughter with social and other skills. 

Calia Phillips, 15, of Bellwood, is a sophomore at Proviso Math and Science Academy. She said that, while she liked remote learning, she had no issue with attending classes in person.

“Honestly, it kind of feels normal, once you get into the building,” she said. “It’s kind of complicated with the face masks, but other than that, it feels normal.”

Natalie Castro, a sophomore at Proviso East, said that while coming to school with masks and other restrictions felt “like it’s a little weird,” she was glad to go back to in-person learning.

“I think it’s good to go back in person, because I prefer this way of learning,” she said.

Maya Harrison, another Proviso East sophomore, felt the same way.

“I guess it’s a little hectic right now, but it’s better than remote learning, because I don’t think anyone was paying attention when we were learning remotely,” she said.